Campbell County Health is cutting costs in response to the financial pressures caused by the coronavirus pandemic and also starting preparations for how to deal with the emerging economy, whenever that may be.

CEO Andy Fitzgerald said an internal task force was started last week to figure out what a return to normal operations would look like.

He believes that sometime in May or June, CCH will resume elective surgeries, outpatient radiology and other services that have been set aside during the pandemic, “but we can’t just start that. There has to be a plan.”

Fitzgerald said this should not be taken to mean that CCH is looking at a specific date to resume those services.

“We just want to put that planning into place, so when we feel we can reasonably and safely do that, we have a plan in place to execute,” he said during a hospital board meeting Thursday.

Starting this week, Campbell County Health administration also will implement cost reductions that include pay cuts and restructuring of some departments and staff positions.

Fitzgerald will take a 50% cut of his $440,000 annual salary through the end of the fiscal year, which is June 30. Senior management will take a 20% pay cut, and directors and managers will take a 5% pay cut.

There also will be a freeze on capital expenditures through the end of the fiscal year, and some departments and employees will be put on temporary furlough. These employees will keep their benefits and be brought back to work within six to 12 weeks.

Most departments will have mandatory hourly reductions, and there is a freeze on educational travel through the end of the year.

“We recognize that this will impact our employees who have been working tirelessly to prepare our organization for this pandemic and keep our community safe and healthy,” Fitzgerald said in a Friday afternoon press release announcing the cuts. “These actions are the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my over 30 years of working in health care.

“I have said throughout this crisis that we are all in this together, and we’ve tried to spread the impact of these cost reductions over the whole organization.”

April drop

During last week’s hospital board meeting, CFO Mary Lou Tate said most CCH departments saw a slight drop in March visits and a steep decrease in April.

From July to February, CCH averaged 8,761 clinic visits per month. There were 7,185 visits in March, and in April that’s projected to drop to 4,015, a 54% decrease from the first eight months of the fiscal year.

Outpatient registration this month will be about 6,000, down from an average of 11,278. Tate predicts it will increase by about 1,000 patients in May and another 1,000 in June. Even then, visits will be well below the monthly averages.

Rehab procedures in April are projected to drop by about 50%, and with elective procedures canceled during the pandemic, the Powder River Surgery Center has not performed any surgeries this month. March only had 62 surgeries, down from the monthly average of 164.

Tate predicted that in May and June, CCH will see a slight increase in all of its departments. She said these projections account for “a modest surge” of coronavirus patients, but if the surge is more severe, those projections will have to be adjusted.

Federal aid

Fitzgerald said one of the things he’s worked on most recently is funding opportunities, and he’s been lobbying at the state and federal levels.

“There’s an awful lot of money, but it’s harder to get than you might think,” he said.

The $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief act includes $100 billion for hospitals, and $30 billion of that was sent out last week. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the amount a hospital receives is based on its share of total Medicare fee-for-service reimbursement last year.

Fitzgerald said he believes CCH will be receiving between $1.8 million and $2 million.

Another $60 billion will be distributed within the next 30 days, he said. This time, the focus will be on hot spots such as New York and Louisiana, as well as rural hospitals. He hopes CCH will be included again, but the formula for how that will be allocated has not been determined.

“There’s a bit of hope there, although until we see the actual formula, (and) know how they’re going to distribute it, we can’t even begin to estimate what that might be,” he said. “It might be a little bit, it could be significant or it could be nothing.”

Even when the hospital opens again, Fitzgerald said he believes it will take some time before things go back to normal. The community has done a great job of staying home, he said, but when that all-clear order is given, he thinks some people will be afraid to go out right away.

“We’ll have to give folks the assurance that it’s safe,” he said.

Tate said with all of the layoffs, many people have lost their health insurance. Even if the hospital starts seeing increased volumes, people will be putting off surgeries simply because they can’t afford it.

Board member Ronda Boller said she doesn’t think it’ll take long for people to come out of their homes.

“I don’t think people are that afraid,” she said. “I think we’re ready to get out and do something.”

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