MSHA brass touts investment at SSH

By Thomas Wilson
star staff

  With millions invested into Sycamore Shoals Hospital during the past five years, two members of the Mountain States Health Alliance brass vow continued support of a hospital that has treated more than 5,400 patients through the 2004 fiscal year.
  "We've spent about ten million dollars on Sycamore Shoals Hospital since 1999," the hospital's Chief Executive Officer Scott Williams told members of the Elizabethton Rotary Club Wednesday afternoon. "I think that is a testament to Sycamore Shoals' importance to MSHA."
  Williams and MSHA CEO Dennis Vonderfecht appeared at the Rotary luncheon to discuss the health care system's progress five years after acquiring six area hospitals, including SSH, from a hospital corporation.
  MSHA-owned hospitals treated more than 35,000 patients in the organization's primary service area, which includes facilities in Washington, Sullivan, Carter and Unicoi counties. Sycamore Shoals Hospital treated 5,413 patients - roughly 15 percent of all MSHA's primary service area hospitals - through the current fiscal year.
  The emergency department of SSH underwent a major expansion three years ago with over 23,600 visits reported in the 2003 fiscal year. Williams said MSHA's 2005 capital budget included $900,000 for SSH this year including $400,000 to update the hospital's surgical department and $100,000 to establish a mobile cardio catheter laboratory at SSH this year. He expects the hospital to file a certificate of need later this summer to establish the mobile lab. He said the lab would not conduct invasive surgical procedures but diagnose low-risk patients for treatment and possible referral to JCMC.
  Sycamore Shoals Hospital opened the facility's two-bed Sleep Disorders Lab in April. The lab staff monitors brain waves, breathing patterns and eye movement to diagnose patients who believe they are suffering from a sleep disorder.
  Williams said improving diagnostic technology as well as maintaining the hospital facility remains a critical part of MSHA's long-term strategy for the hospital.
  MSHA reported gross revenues of $1.1 billion for the current fiscal year and $424 million in net revenue. The health system reported its cash flow has increased from $39 million in 1999 to $107 million this year. MSHA rebounded from a $10 million loss in net income for 1999 to finish $37 million in the black this year. While encouraged with the income growth, Vonderfecht said, "When you look at 1.1 billion dollars, that is a very small profit margin for us." Vonderfecht oversees an organization with eight hospitals, 1,124 licensed in-patient beds and 5,000 employees.
  Vonderfecht said healthy cash flow numbers helped the system's debt service and will fund more than $50 million capital improvements this year. He said MSHA paid more than $41 million in fiscal year 2004 toward the half-a-billion dollar debt accumulated through acquisition of the six hospitals in 1998.
  One of the system's largest capital projects is a $17 million expansion of the intensive care unit at the Johnson City Medical Center. Currently under construction, the ICU will have 28 additional beds and a 10-bed "step-down" unit.
  MSHA also plans to implement a system-wide patient information retrieval system making patient data available at each system facility. Vonderfecht said the $3.8 million investment would cut down paperwork and wait time for patients.
  "The records will transfer electronically to going through all the same information again," he said.
  Vonderfecht said the system budgeted $6.2 million this year to buy new patient beds and furniture in each hospital facility.
  As one of six designated TennCare safety net hospital systems in the state, both men said MSHA facilities continued to lose millions of dollars due to low reimbursements. Of the $4.7 million in net revenues SSH earned last year from TennCare reimbursements, the hospital compiled $9 million in care delivery costs for TennCare patients - a $4.3 million loss according to MSHA figures.
  Formed in 1998, MSHA is comprised of Johnson City Medical Center (JCMC), North Side Hospital, Johnson City Specialty Hospital, James H. & Cecile C. Quillen Rehabilitation Hospital, Sycamore Shoals Hospital, Johnson County Health Center, Indian Path Medical Center and Indian Path Pavilion.