South Central Kansas Medical Center reported a year-to-date lost of $3.8 million compared to the same period last year, although COVID-19 relief funds could reverse that shortfall.
In addition to financial difficulties, the medical center employees are under emotional stress providing care during the pandemic and not receiving the community support it needs, CEO Jeff Bowman told hospital board members on Thursday.
Bowman said that financial deficit could be directly attributed to the COVID pandemic.
CFO Litisha Johnson said the loss represents a major drop in patient receivables, not an increase in expenses.
“That’s not anything else other than lost revenue from patients,” she said.
Johnson said that figure does not include the grants and government loans that the hospital has received, which includes a $1.5 million federal loan to cover payroll designed to be forgivable.
She said the administration is making every effort to avoid using those funds until they are certain repayment would not be required.
“We’re sitting on as much of it as possible,” Bowman said. “ I don’t think we’ve used any of the HHS (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) money at all.”
The medical center could wind up in a good place financially at the end of the year if it is allowed to keep those funds.
“But we don’t know what 2021 is going to do,” he said.
For May and June, all three of SCKMC’s clinics reported a loss, which Johnson said was expected. The Ark City Clinic was hit the hardest with a loss of more than $200,000. She said there were no unusual expenses, only a loss of revenue from a drop in patient visits.
Johnson said a drop in the number of visits was normal during the summer months and would pick back up with the arrival of flu season.
The board also approved the purchase of a new patient monitoring system. Technology Manager William Jarvis said the current system, which is used to monitor heart rate, heart rhythm, blood pressure, pulse, respiration and oxygen saturation, has outlived its service life and parts are difficult to obtain.
The new equipment would allow doctors and nurses to keep track of patients without having to enter the room, which is especially desirable with COVID patients. Jarvis said it will also allow doctors to pull up historical information as well as information on discharged patients, which the current system can’t do.
“It allows a doctor from home to be able to pull up that patient’s vitals, see it on their phone or computer without actually coming to the hospital,” he said. “The doctor can pull it up right there and figure out what they need to do.’
The equipment also has diagnostics specifically designed for treating COVID patients.
Jarvis said the total cost for the new equipment would be $1.1 million, but the hospital would also receive a discount of $192,000.
Marketing Director Trevor Langer said that the purchase of the equipment would be covered by the CARES Act, but he said the difficult part is determining which part of the act it would fall under.
“We did find that there has been $200 million allocated specifically for things that would increase the capabilities of not only hospitals, but rural health care centers for telehealth,” he said.
Langer said SCKMC appears to be in a good position to purchase the equipment without having to repay any of the funds spent on it.
“Now we’re in a more comfortable place where we have enough regulation that says if we stay within these guidelines, we’re looking pretty good at the end of it,” he said.
Plea for support
Bowman said the pandemic has not only caused financial stress at the medical center has also affected employee morale. He said he has seen a dramatic physical and emotional impact on the staff and administrative team.
“I know this week we had a nurse crying on the floor,” he told the board.
The staff finds it frustrating and disheartening to see and hear comments from the public that the virus is not real or just a political ploy.
“We know it’s real,” he said. “We’ve had one of our own employees have a family member die.”
Bowman said while local citizens are dismissing the virus on Facebook, many of his staff members are wearing masks for up to 12 hours each day and are scared that they might take the infection home to their families.
He said the hospital is not receiving the needed community support and asked board members to write letters of encourage to send to the staff.
“This is something that is not going to go away and it’s way worse than you think,” he said. “It’s hard for us to sit here when I feel like our city doesn’t support us a lot of the time.”
Cowley County has recorded 235 total infections since the pandemic started, with 41 cases currently active. A large majority of the cases have been in the Ark City area, according to health officials.
Bowman said because Kansas is now a red zone, the hospital has a no visitor policy. He often has to deal with angry people who want to enter and visit a loved one; many of them, even former classmates, have threatened to make a forcible entry.
“It’s stressing the administration out,” Bowman said. “It’s stressing the front line out and not seeing any end in sight is exhausting,” he said.
Board chair Dan Jurkovich agreed.
“The human mind can handle something if you know when it’s going to end,” he said.
Trustee Kanyon Gingher said fliers would be put into residents’ water bills explaining the importance of actions to slow the spread of the virus.
Commissioner Duane Oestmann remarked on the lower virus spread in Winfield, which has a mask order.
“It’s discouraging going to Winfield and see about 90 percent of the people wearing a mask, and they’ve got less cases because they took a step early enough.”