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Sun., Oct. 4
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Lewis County General Hospital taking steps toward affiliation


LOWVILLE — Officials at Lewis County General Hospital are moving forward with the next phase of a strategic plan to improve finances, which includes approaching numerous health care facilities in the region with an eye toward affiliation while retaining county ownership.

Joseph R. Lupica, chairman of Newpoint Healthcare Advisors LLC, a consultant retained by the hospital’s board of managers, said the first phase was outlined by consultants at Stroudwater Associates, Portland, Maine, in October 2012.

The first phase, he said, “was block and tackle. We had no layoffs.”

Decreasing the wait time for emergency rooms visits also was listed as a goal and met, he said.

The largest task and most crucial aspect of phase one, called a “workout plan,” involved finances.

“They had a goal of $4 million improvement in their finances,” said Lewis County Legislator Philip C. Hathway, R-Harrisville, former Hospital Committee chairman.

“They met that goal, and it may be worth noting that didn’t include critical-access designation,” he said. “The hospital is not out of the woods yet, but we have found the path. It’s very important we stay vigilant in following the financials closely, and I’m sure we will.”

In November, Mr. Hathway said he was worried about the hospital’s creating a “feel-good budget” that, in his opinion, projects revenue sources that aren’t completely set and may be overly optimistic on physician production.

Critical-access designation, which will bring an estimated $3 million in additional revenues to the hospital annually, are one of those revenue sources that are not guaranteed at this point.

The designation was applied for months ago and is awaiting final approval from the state.

Mr. Hathway said he still has concerns over projected income from the hospital officials.

The hospital’s improved finances are just one item that makes it attractive to other facilities, according to Mr. Lupica.

The North Country Health Systems Redesign Commission is expected to release a report in March that will include a recommendation for collaboration among north country health care facilities.

“We’re taking initiatives on our own,” Mr. Lupica said. “We’re having a wide range of conversations with six different facilities.”

He did not disclose which facilities the hospital was working with, but did say all seemed interested.

A seventh facility was approached, but was unable to consider affiliation because of internal issues.

Mr. Lupica said affiliation does not mean exclusively partnering with one, but could result in several partnerships to meet different needs.

It also does not mean privatization of the county-owned facility.

“If anything, it makes the hospital stronger,” Mr. Lupica said. “We’ll maintain county status and employees will still have the freedom to organize with” their union.

Eric R. Burch, hospital CEO, said he has met with and explained the plans to hospital staff.

“The old-school thought was that consolidation was just to cut costs,” Mr. Lupica said. “That’s not what’s going on in health care anymore. We’ve recognized the need for proactive collaboration outside our own hospital.”

With a focus on wellness care, prevention and education, instead of sickness care, Mr. Lupica said, sharing efforts not only retain, but create more jobs. Clinics and the volume of patients they see are one example of that.

State law prohibits the county from building or renting space outside of the county. However, an affiliation outside the county could allow the opening of a clinic outside county boundaries.

Though Mr. Lupica said nothing was concrete, as the hospitals are still in the early stages of discussions, it does have a list of needs it wants met by other facilities in order to affiliate with them.

Another attractive point to Lewis County General, according to Mr. Lupica, is the positive trend on rural recruiting.

The newest crop of doctors is drawn to areas such as Lewis County, he said.

“They mountain bike. They hike, “ he said. “They want what we have to offer here.”

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