Friday, July 18, 2008

TOP STORY > >Hospital has survival plan

Leader staff writer

Establishing an after-hours clinic at North Metro Medical Center is under consideration by hospital leadership as a way to lessen the demand on the hospital’s emergency services and provide a more affordable care option.

However, no definite timeframe has been set for a decision about the after-hours clinic or provision of other services at North Metro into the future, according to Mike Wilson, a member of the medical center board of directors.

“The hospital is not in a desperate situation, but a situation of concern,” he said. “The hospital is not broke, and it is not going to close tomorrow.”

During the last 11 months, emergency room (ER) visits at North Metro have increased 8 percent, compared to reporting for the same months of the year in 2006-07.

For 2007-08, the ER has seen an average of 1,788 patients each month, which means an average of 66 patients each day. In 2006-07, the monthly average was 1,936 patients or 60 on average each day.

The medical center’s CEO, Scott Landrum, attributes the intensifying demand on emergency services to the rising number of people without health insurance coverage, especially among the population served by North Metro. He said many people rely on the hospital’s ER for conditions that could well be treated at a doctor’s office, but folks without insurance come there because they won’t be turned away. And then there are those cases, such as a sick child on the weekend, that wind up in the

ER because no doctor’s office is open.

In reference to the pressure on ER services at North Metro as well as the other two, closest hospitals with ER services (Baptist North in North Little Rock and St. Vincent North in Sherwood), Landrum said, “All three of us are overwhelmed.”

Wilson is clear-spoken about what he sees as the hospital’s priorities. “We as a board have got to be cognizant of our duty to the hospital and community to maintain that facility,” Wilson said. “The board is determined to keep it open. We will have the ER available and, we hope, after-hours care for minor things.”

Wilson was complimentary of the strides made by Landrum, who became North Metro’s CEO a year ago. “He has done a good job for us,” Wilson said. “The hospital is more accessible and looking nicer for the public and the doctors. Things are going much better with customer relations, with improved patient care.”

Hospital operations are now more cost-efficient, thanks to Land-rum’s “keen attention to detail, where every nickel counts,” Wilson said, but that has not been enough to fully cure the institution’s financial ills. “We are in a tough competitive situation,” Wilson said. “The squeeze is on us as with all other hospitals, most of them anyway.”

The reality is that present revenue streams are not enough to support all the services that the hospital currently provides, so something has to give, he said.

“The greatest difficulty is that Medicare, Medicaid and TriCare are not sufficient to have a 110 percent, all-service hospital. It is just not working and that is true for others, too,” Wilson said, alluding to other hospitals.

He encourages members of the community to offer their thoughts about future direction of the hospital.

“The board would welcome any suggestions or comments that your readers or the public may have,” he said.