WHEELING - Local hospital officials say they are heading in a new direction - a very unclear direction - in dealing with the coming changes from the federal health care law.
But there's no doubt that the Affordable Care Act is having and will continue to have very real consequences for how local hospitals achieve their mission. The first order of business, according to hospital leaders, it to tighten their financial belts while also keeping the quality of care high.
At Wheeling Hospital, Chief Executive Officer Ron Violi said since there is much to be revealed about the new law, the hospital will deal with it the best way it knows how.
Michael Caruso, president and chief executive officer of OVHS&E, talks during an open house for the new Robert C. Byrd Child & Adolescent Mental Health Center.
Photo by Shelley Hanson
"Even though it's out there and it's the law of land, what's going to be implemented and what isn't still isn't clear," Violi said.
He noted it appears, for now, that Medicaid reimbursements will not offset the money the hospital pays out to cover the cost of services for the uninsured, known as disproportionate share. Hospitals receive a government rebate for treating people without insurance.
"The facts are everybody is in the same position. We can look at what they say ... but we don't know when they will come into effect," he said of the health care changes. "The effect is going to be if they're disproportionate in the way they are applied, then it can be devastating."
Still, Wheeling Hospital and its affiliate, Belmont Community Hospital in Bellaire, can deal with it.
"You prepare for it by getting your costs in line. ... Your cashflow could possibly be affected, but we don't think that will happen. We think we can handle it. We've made a lot of appropriate moves in that direction, and we continue to cut costs where we can without it affecting quality in the hospital," Violi said. "We won't do anything that affects quality. That's the nature of the beast. You can try and tighten up payrolls and try and tighten up expenses ... but you can't let any one of them affect the quality of what you do."
Lisa Simon, senior vice president and chief financial officer for Ohio Valley Health Services and Education Corp., parent company of Ohio Valley Medical Center and East Ohio Regional Hospital, noted hospitals in essence are being asked to do more with less.
"It is our reality. ... So we go to our department heads and tell them to be more efficient and to our vendors and tell them we need better deals," Simon said. "There is a little anxiety. Our job is to maintain good benefits ... and buy new equipment and keep up facilities."
And at the same time, administrators have to maintain enough of a profit margin that people and banks feel comfortable doing business with the hospital, she said.
"By investing in technology, we should increase our health outcomes and decrease costs," Simon said.
In the hospitals' long history, she noted, it is not the first time it has had to adapt.
"We have a fantastic group of people and a loyal staff. We will be just fine. You have to be good business people to be good caretakers," Simon said.
Simon added the hospital corporation still is in the process of looking for a financial partner. Last summer, board members with Ohio Valley Health Services and Education Corp. said they were considering becoming an affiliate of Tennessee-based Community Health Systems Inc. They announced a few months later, however, the fit just wasn't right.
The move could have resulted in the corporation being partially or wholly owned by CHS. Such a deal is expected to give the hospitals an infusion of money in the form of equipment purchases and renovations.
"Our focus will always be on our communities. We will continue to provide the care and compassion that our communities deserve regardless of the impact of the new law," Michael Caruso, president and chief executive officer of OVHS&E, said.
In Glen Dale, Reynolds Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Melissa Marco said Reynolds also is preparing for the new health care law.
"We're putting a great emphasis on physician recruitment because we know there's going to be new patients entering the system," she said. "We're also trying to stay as efficient as possible with our costs."
At Barnesville Hospital, officials are embracing one of the law's mandates: electronic recordkeeping. To qualify for related federal funding, facilities had to meet certain criteria. Tiffany Gramby, Barnesville Hospital's project manager, said the hospital's staff has stepped up to help design a system to meet the needs of staff and patients.
"It's no surprise to me that the staff at Barnesville Hospital stepped up to the challenge and worked tirelessly as a team to create a system that will enhance the delivery of patient care and give us the tools we need to work more efficiently. We have a fantastic team here at Barnesville. A team that is always willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done and to do it with excellence."
The additional 100 computers and work stations will allow staff to access patient information at anytime and anywhere, she said.
At Wetzel County Hospital, Administrator Brian Felici said until more is known about how the health care law will impact the hospital, it will continue doing "business as usual."
"We carefully scrutinize every purchase, we monitor staffing and we do what we can to curb our expenses without compromising patient care. The law is here and it's here to stay, so it's our responsibility as health care providers to do what we have to do to accommodate it. Our first priority is to our patients and to assuring that they are receiving the quality care they've come to expect at our facility," Felici said.