Friday, February 28, 2014

TOP STORY >> Hospital hopes for recovery

Leader staff writer

North Metro Medical Center still has unpaid bills, and, if the private option doesn’t pass through the House, it could be in even worse financial straits.

Two consultants are looking at options: one hired by the hospital and one hired by the city’s hospital board, which oversaw the hospital before it was sold to Allegiance Health Management in 2010.

Cindy Stafford, the chief executive officer for the hospital, said, “The hospital has made huge strides in regards to its financial performance. It is on the verge of implementing several strategies that will further enhance the services that it renders to the citizens of Jacksonville and surrounding areas.”

Stafford continued, “The vast majority of hospitals have issues with accounts payable in today’s health care environment. North Metro is no different than others, and we have made significant progress in this regard. As the business continues to improve, the cash flow will likewise improve and the accounts payable issues will be further reduced.”

She didn’t say how much in the red the hospital was. How much does the hospital lose a year to unpaid or delinquent accounts?

“There is no easy answer to this question based upon the complex reimbursement mechanisms in health care. Sure, we lose money on uncompensated care, and delinquent accounts have a negative effect on our cash flow,” Stafford said.

Cornerstone Hospital, a tenant in North Metro, supposedly owes UAMS $1.7 million for radiology services, according to a comment on the Arkansas Times blog. Stafford said Cornerstone is paid up on its rent with North Metro. She said North Metro does not owe UAMS money.

Meanwhile the hospital’s director of physical therapy, Rep. Joe Farrer (R-Austin), is strongly opposed to the private option and is one of the votes keeping the Medicaid-expansion alternative from passing. He also said Cornerstone’s finances are separate from North Metro.

The state Medicaid option has to be renewed every year with 75 percent of the vote in the Senate and the House. It squeaked through both last year. The Senate passed it again last month with 27 senators saying yes, but the House has rejected it three times already. Another vote is set for Monday.

“At this time, the impact of losing the private-option coverage in Arkansas may have a negative impact on the hospital,” Stafford said.

She continued, “If passed, it would provide insurance options, the first which would offset our uninsured population. But we have not received enough information to truly understand the impact that it will have on hospitals in the following years. While we understand that it has been voted down, we are not sure if there may be alternative reimbursements to offset some of the coverage presently.”

Stafford also said the hospital has hired a consultant to look at its finances.

This is a different consultant from the one hired by the city’s hospital board to look at long-term health-care options for the city. That study should be complete in about 60 days.

Stafford said its consultant is reviewing “revenue cycling within our facility. It is imperative that all of the billing and collection functions are operating efficiently. Contracting with a third party is a way for us to ensure that the revenue cycle component of the hospital is functioning properly.”

She added, “We find that often an independent third party can bring some new ideas to us that help to strengthen our operations.”

Some of the strategies Stafford mentioned was partnering with other health providers, such as UAMS or other private health firms like Cornerstone.

“One of our strategic plans is to bring in additional services to the community, which will in turn strengthen North Metro’s financial viability,” she said. “We are presently discussing numerous ideas, and it is a bit premature to disclose any details.”