WhidbeyHealth still short on cash

A persistent decline in inpatient visits is contributing to low cash reserves for the Whidbey Island hospital district.

WhidbeyHealth Controller Jennifer Reed told board commissioners Monday that the district had 14 days of cash on hand for operating expenses. At one point, this number dropped below 10 and CEO Ron Telles authorized use of a line of credit to boost it back up, Telles said.

“These are serious times,” he said. “These are serious issues.”

There was a small increase in revenue in May, but the number of days patients spent at the hospital continued to drop. There was a brief increase during flu season, then the numbers dove again after March.

In about a month, the Whidbey Island Public Hospital District is expected to get a large loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture loan program. The money will be used for infrastructure improvements to the original hospital building and to pay for cost overruns of the new wing.

However, Telles said with an average of only about 10 patient visits a day, more will need to be done to put the hospital district on stronger footing.

Ron Wallin, board president, noted that other hospitals are experiencing similar drops in inpatient visits. There are also a number of physician positions open, which he said is another shared experience with other hospitals in Washington.

“We aren’t unique,” Wallin said.

Those that do use WhidbeyHealth’s services seem to have mostly positive experiences for several categories of care, according to a survey, but the results also show that other institutions in the region still rank higher.

Linda Gipson, chief quality officer, shared Press Ganey Survey results that illustrated significant reductions in patient perception in the emergency department and medical practice. Hospice and inpatient results improved over the previous rankings.

Telles told commissioners that hospital leadership would have to focus on return on investment before expanding or increasing services provided. He said it was going to take “courageous decision-making” to improve the financial situation.

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