Out of My Mind 28

Shouldn’t have let warrants grow so far out of control

Thisnewspaper has been one of the most vocal supporters of our hospital district,pushing hard editorially for the approval of the bond to expand andrehabilitate the hospital. The new addition and the painting and work beingdone to tie the new and old parts of the building together as one freshfacility are positive steps. And the depreciation the district will get fromMedicaid and Medicare for the new facility will go a long way toward helping toretire the remaining $2.4 million (down from over $3 million in 2010) ininterest-bearing warrants owed to the county.

However,North Valley never should have let the warrant situation grow so far out ofcontrol. It colors the opinions of those the district needs to fund things likeanother bond to finish the basement in the new part of the facility -especially during these hard economic times.

Last weekChief Financial Operator Bomi Bharucha, in response to a critical report fromState Auditor Brian Sonntag on the hospital district’s financial situation,said past steps the district has taken are working at paying the warrants down.These steps include splitting off the nursing home into its own division. Thishelped to stem some of the losses in the long-term care facility. He said thenursing home is now operating under more updated rates and will be making morecuts to the budget.

CFOBharucha said the warrant situation worsened in 2009 when it took over theentire management of the emergency room and hired doctors to staff it. Thedecision to hire the staff to manage the ER rather than relying on localdoctors, at the time touted as a cost-saving measure, then turning around andcontracting the job out was confusing at best. According to hospitalmanagement, this is saving money so perhaps they’ve struck upon the rightsolution regarding the emergency room.

Having a quality hospital so closeto serve our communities is valuable in terms of the precious minutes saved intransport that can mean the difference between life and death in an emergencysituation. It is also great for the convenience it offers. Being able to do follow-upappointments at the hospital in Tonasket after a recent foot surgery, ratherthan having to drive to Brewster or Chelan each week, saves me time and money.

Bharucha pointed out that the stateaudit that brought Sonntag’s criticism was for the time period of Jan. 1, 2008through Dec. 31, 2009 and that the district had paid down nearly $1 million inregistered warrants since that time. He predicts the district will catch up andbe back on track, although he says the picture concerning the state’s deficitand health care reform is still unclear.

Warrants are a fact of life for allthe rural hospitals in this county as a short-term solution to revenueshortfalls. However, the board and management of NVH owe it to those of us thathave taxed ourselves for the improvements to the hospital to make sure thedistrict regains its financial health and doesn’t get so far behind in thefuture – lives depend on.