NVH board reviews redistricting plan, potential budget cuts

TONASKET – The North Valley Hospital District Board of Commissioners couldn’t take action on the proposal, but a redistricting plan met no opposition at a public hearing that led off the Thursday, Dec. 8 board meeting.

Census data revealed a discrepancy in the population represented by each of the districts. Ideally, each district would represent approximately 3,729 people, but District 2’s population count was 5,176 while District 3 was just 2,677. District 1 was close to its target number at 3,335.

Chief Financial Officer Bomi Bharucha said the new district maps were drawn up by Bob Schroeder for $500. Under the proposed change, the Nighthawk area north of Palmer Lake would be ceded to the District 1 (Oroville), while District 3 would absorb the entire area west of Highway 7, with the exception of Wannacut Lake.

The district populations under the plan would all be within 50 persons of the target of 3,729.

The board can’t consider a motion until at least a week has passed for public comment. A motion on the plan will likely be considered at the Thursday, Dec. 29 board meeting.

Bharucha discussed the potential effects of proposed federal and state budget cuts on the hospital’s budget.

The governor’s proposed health care reductions include significant cuts to Critical Access Hospital payments, funding for hospitals for high Medicaid and uncompensated care, and other cuts that could be compensated for with tax increases.

Not included in the cuts that could be softened by increasing revenue is the Critical Access Hospital funding. Most significant of all is a nearly 50 percent cut in Medicaid payments to Critical Access Care Hospitals such as NVH.

“If this is the hit we’re going to take on reimbursement from Medicaid,” Bharucha said, “bring on the padlocks and close the doors … It’s huge.”

Critical Access Hospitals have to meet a number of criteria, but in general are small, rural hospitals that receive state funding to ensure health care access to Medicare beneficiaries, as well as allow more flexible staffing and health delivery system options in rural areas. Information provided by the Washington State Hospital Association indicates that more than 80 percent of Critical Access Hospitals in the state would be pushed into the red by the governor’s proposal, as opposed to the approximately one third now operating at a deficit.

Those cuts would be in addition to proposed federal budget cuts that could potentially reduce Medicare bad debt payments by 75 percent, eliminate health professional shortage area funding, and slightly reduce Medicare reimbursement.

Bharucha also reported that the warrant level has reduced to just under $1.75 million. NVH also received a $440,000 Medicaid Meaningful Use payment, although it also had to make a $225,000 Medicare payment.

Two of the commissioners, Clarice Nelson and board chairwoman Helen Casey were sworn in by Michael D. Howe to serve new six-year terms after having won their re-election bids in November.

The board also decided to keep its 2011 committee officers retained for 2012 and approved the disposition of four pieces of surplus equipment.

Also approved was a request by support services director John Boyd for $37,756 for the removal of asbestos that was exposed during an attempt to remove the old incinerator from the basement. The cost will include the removal of the entire incinerator as well as removal of asbestos-laden piping from the wood shop area. Boyd said the incinerator needed to be removed to make room for the installation of new electrical panels that will allow the entire hospital campus to be powered by the new generator.

The board also heard a presentation from Rebecca Johnson of Community Link Consulting, which will be assisting the hospital district with its strategic planning.

Among the tools Johnson said she planned on using to gather data were surveys for the physicians staff, the board, employees and the community at large.

Once that information is compiled and analyzed, Johnson said she planned to meet with board members to formulate goals in strategic areas with which to create measurable benchmarks and strategies to use in planning future development of the hospital.

The next NVH district board meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 29, at 7 p.m. in the hospital board room.