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Archive for Monday, June 26, 2000

Jefferson County hospital on the road to recovery

June 26, 2000

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For the first time in four years, the Jefferson County Memorial Hospital in Winchester is on the financial upswing.

"I've been on the board for four years, and it hasn't been much fun until recently," said Joye Huston, who took over in January as acting Chief Executive Officer. "We are getting in the mode instead of reacting and worrying about paying the water bill to looking at what can we do to take services back to the community."

Huston attributed the hospital's survival and resurgence to the sale of three clinics and its pharmacy last year and a decision to become a "critical access hospital."

"In January 1998, our hospital became what is called a critical access hospital," Huston said. "What that means is we are cost-based reimbursed by Medicare, which is different than most hospitals. We have experienced real challenges, but it hasn't hurt us as much."

In the wake of 1997 Medicare cuts, the financially troubled hospital 35 miles north of Lawrence unloaded three of its clinics and nearly 25 employees in 1999. Shortly thereafter, it sold its hospital pharmacy to the Jefferson County Memorial Hospital Foundation.

Huston's predecessor, former interim CEO Jim Ferguson, stared down many of those challenges. He told the Journal-World last summer that the changes in Medicare reimbursements forced the hospital to turn over its McLouth and Oskaloosa clinics to Stormont-Vail HealthCare.

It then closed a third clinic, which had been operating out of the hospital building itself.

"They were not making enough money to cover expenses," Ferguson said of the clinics. "The Medicare impact would effectively double the loss."

Meanwhile, the hospital has taken transfusions of cash from Riverbend Regional Healthcare Foundation in Atchison -- $3.35 million over three years. In 1997, Atchison Hospital, owned by Riverbend, entered into a management agreement with Jefferson County Memorial Hospital.

Since the loss of employees, the staffing numbers have leveled off at around 70 full- and part-time employees.

"What I've done is as positions were vacant, I didn't fill them until I knew we were financially secure," Huston said. "I was able to reclaim a lot of positions."

As the future looks brighter for the rural hospital, she hopes to slowly expand its services.

"As we are getting back on our feet financially, we are looking at what services we can provide in our financial limits," Huston said. "We are very interested in looking at what the community needs."

-- Tom Meagher's phone-message number is 832-7187; his e-mail address is tmeagher@ljworld.com.

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