NVH takes big step as it emerges from warrants

TONASKET – When North Valley Hospital District officially emerged out of debt from Okanogan County for a day to kick off July, it was a landmark moment, but also only the beginning the next stage of the hospital’s return to financial health.

“We’ll probably go in and out of warrants a little for the next year,” said NVH Administrator Linda Michel. “That’s just the nature of the beast while you’re trying to get some cash in the bank.”

Indeed, the hospital has been in and out of warrants several times since.

“Last week we were able to pay over $65,000 of bills with our own money,” Michel said. “(At the start Monday, July 21) we were $53,000 in the hole.”

By Tuesday morning, payments had come in that brought NVH $262 into the black.

Warrants are intended to be short-term loans from the county, but which have been a long-term lifeline for all three of Okanogan County’s hospitals.

The hospital’s debt to Okanogan County was at $2.955 million in late August, 2012, and was still at about $2 million last July.

“At this point we’re determined to stay out,” Michel said. “You have to build up that cash in the bank, so it doesn’t happen all at once. We’re looking at every process we have – not to work harder, but smarter, trying to do some lean implementation.”

Michel said she wouldn’t be against using warrants for their originally intended purpose – as a short term loan, as opposed to a line of credit.

“We need to pay for our daily operations by ourselves,” she said. “Warrants should be used for big things where you have a plan to pay them down, not day to day operations.”

Parts of the facility are aging and are in need of upgrades before they reach crisis stage. In the past year the call system in the nursing home failed, and one of the boilers had to be replaced after more than 50 years of service.

“I won’t say we’ll never borrow,” Michel said. “Our facility is old. We have to go forward with the rest of the boilers, and the windows on the nursing home.We have a lot of stuff facing us.”