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Archive for Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Lawrence Memorial Hospital anticipates new needs in economic downturn

April 21, 2009

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Lawrence Memorial Hospital has braced itself for the ill effects of the troubled economy.

Board members approved a 2009 budget that projected a net income from operations of $6.5 million, down 21 percent compared to 2008’s profit of $8.2 million and down 33 percent from 2007’s $9.7 million.

LMH anticipated that the number of uninsured patients showing up in its emergency room would increase. That hasn’t happened yet.

It also expected to see fewer patients with insurance because they are delaying elective treatments such as knee replacement surgery or weight-loss surgery. These procedures tend to be the most lucrative for hospitals.

President and CEO Gene Meyer said the year started slow but picked up in March.

“I don’t know if there is a lot of rhyme or reason. I think the general feeling is that things are going to be soft,” he said. “I think it is still a little too early to tell.”

Meyer said the hospital was evaluating every position that becomes open before hiring a replacement. The hospital employs about 1,300 people. He called it a “hiring frost.”

“We’re really starting to say, ‘Let’s make sure we have to fill these positions, because we don’t want to be in a position of any layoffs or anything like that,” Meyer said.

But when it comes to the stock market, there’s good news.

“The reserves that the hospital has are not invested in equities in the stock market,” Meyer said. “But the interest rates on our reserves also have been down, so we have not gained as much as we would like. But the good news is we haven’t lost anything, and that’s really good news.”

The hospital completed a three-year, $45 million expansion project in March. Now, hospital leaders are looking to gain efficiencies from the project. For example, the new emergency department should see patients in a more timely manner.

The hospital does have a couple of construction projects under way. It hopes to finish the 10,500-square-foot Eudora Medical Office Building in the third quarter of 2010. The building, located at the intersection of Kansas Highway 10 and Church Street, will include the new office of Eudora Family Care as well as additional leasable space. A 48,800-square-foot medical office building also is going up on the east side of the hospital, and it should be complete by the year’s end. A general surgeon group will fill 7,000 square feet of space. LMH is searching for tenants to occupy the rest.

“I think the economy will definitely slow things down,” Meyer said. “I think people are really going to question whether they want to take on a new and different expense or if they want to economize where they are.”

Another project under way is a technological one. LMH is installing an electronic system that will be used for doctors’ orders. It should be complete by November.

“It a major patient-safety issue,” Meyer said. “The result is to minimize any misunderstanding of orders that could lead to negative patient outcomes.”

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