WhidbeyHealth gets good news for budget

Medicare money and swing beds to help hospital’s financial woes

After months of bad financial news, things may be looking up for WhidbeyHealth.

The public hospital district is getting an infusion of Medicare money that will help plug last year’s deficit, board commissioners were told this week. In addition, commissioners approved a new way for the hospital to make money.

An estimated $3 million in Medicare reimbursements will be added to the year-end draft financial statements, controller Jennifer Reed said at the board meeting Monday morning. Medicare is a federal program that provides health coverage for Americans age 65 and over and reimburses physicians and health care systems.

“We will see a nice bump in 2018 financials,” Reed said. “It will be a big adjustment to our bottom line.”

The positive news — after months of negative budget updates — evoked applause from the board and WhidbeyHealth administrators and staff.

Reed also presented the pros and cons of WhidbeyHealth Medical Center converting some its 39 inpatient rooms into “swing beds.” The rooms are made available for post-surgical patients not well enough to go home who are transferring from other hospitals and need more than three days of rest and rehabilitation.

“They recover in their own community, and it makes financial sense for us,” Reed said.

She said that many regional hospitals are turning to swing beds for extra cash.

Disadvantages Reed cited were ending up with a long-term “border” patients and increased risk of infection. She estimated 83 percent of potential swing-bed patients would be covered by Medicare.

Starting out the first year with two rooms set aside as swing beds would lead to $138,021 in net profit, Reed calculated. Setting aside five beds “could mean a cash reimbursement of $400,000 with really no increase in staff,” she said.

The board unanimously approved the plan.

In February, the health system reported a loss of $6.3 million for the 2018 fiscal year’s non-cash operating expenses. The loss was attributed to unplanned expenses, such as contracting out for chemotherapy drugs and rebuilding its pharmacy, as well as depreciation.

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