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Carthage hospital continues improving, adds sleep lab

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CARTHAGE — What a difference a year makes.

That is how the administration at Carthage Area Hospital is looking at significant fiscal and operational improvements throughout 2012 as it progresses into a more stable 2013.

“The hospital was in extremely dire circumstances in December 2011,” said Adil Ameer, chief executive officer. “Our efforts were to implement a recovery plan, and our priorities at that time were to get the billing system resolved. Our cash flow had been affected negatively.”

Other problems the hospital faced included expansion of services beyond what could be afforded and the need for more revenue.

The hospital has cleaned up its balance sheet, reduced debt, reduced expenses, improved cash flow and streamlined operations. All of that would not have been possible without well over $10 million in support from area economic development and state agencies.

“Our job was to try to convince them that Carthage Area Hospital is economically viable and a clinically viable organization to the community,” Mr. Ameer said. “We’re very appreciative they came through with critical support. It was indeed a team effort.”

The hospital employs about 480 people.

It is now better able to plan for its future as it continues to work through challenges most other health care organizations face, such as increased regulations and low insurance reimbursement rates.

Mr. Ameer said the hospital will develop a marketing plan to create an updated identity and better promote its services and programs. While the hospital hopes to restructure its behavioral health services and emergency department, and evaluate the development of a bariatric surgery program, it also would like to upgrade its health information technology.

A financially stable hospital in the north country also will allow greater cost reductions through shared services with other area hospitals, according to River Hospital CEO Ben Moore III, who is also spokesman for a consortium of seven north country hospitals. Carthage Area Hospital; River Hospital, Alexandria Bay; Samaritan Medical Center, Watertown; Lewis County General Hospital, Lowville; E.J. Noble Hospital, Gouverneur; Clifton-Fine Hospital, Star Lake, and Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center, Ogdensburg, joined in a collaborative effort to help reduce the number of unnecessary repeat Medicaid admissions. They also will look to explore possible collaborative options with participating hospitals.

“By having every component financially stable, that means the effort gets put into clinical services,” Mr. Moore said.

Meanwhile, prospective Carthage Area Hospital patients can count on a few changes at the 1001 West Street Road hospital. A new sleep center will open June 18 in its former cardiac rehabilitation space. The sleep center is a joint venture between the hospital and Franciscan Cos., which provides health-related products and programs across upstate New York.

Mr. Ameer said the sleep center was brought here partially because of the increased need from Fort Drum soldiers. Hospital project manager Laura J. Cook said the sleep center will start with two rooms and expand to three rooms once the program demands more space.

A sleep technician and an administrative staff member will be employed by Franciscan.

Another new addition includes nearly $2 million in the purchase of a new computed tomography scan and magnetic resonance imaging equipment, and their service contracts. Mr. Ameer said the board approved those just last week.

“Carthage hospital until about a year ago wasn’t able to look at how you make investments in improving clinical technology,” he said.

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