Southwest Regional announces changes, including layoffs

September 17, 2013
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Southwest Regional Medical Center on Bonar Ave., Waynesburg, will only perform scheduled surgical procedures and will no longer offer high intensity level of services. Order a Print
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Cindy Cowie

WAYNESBURG – Facing unprecedented challenges with reduction in payment from insurers and increase in bad debt, Southwest Regional Medical Center Tuesday announced a series of bold changes, including the layoffs of 29 employees.

According to Cindy Cowie, Southwest Regional’s chief executive officer, “We are making changes that will allow us to provide the level of care that’s right for our community. In today’s healthcare environment, community hospitals, like ours, are revising their service offerings to focus on outpatient testing, emergency care services, wound care, home health care and scheduled surgical procedures. Community hospitals are also modifying the levels of inpatient care they offer allowing the urban tertiary facilities to provide care in more complex situations.”

As part of the hospital’s service adjustment, 29 employees from different areas of the hospital, from nurses to cafeteria workers, were notified Monday of the layoffs. However, as part of the Service Employees International Union contract, the employees were given the opportunity to take a voluntary reduction through retirement or resignation and 14 chose this venue, reducing the impact of nonvoluntary layoffs to 15.

Cowie said, “The key change to services available locally is that we will only be performing scheduled surgical procedures and we will not be offering the highest intensity level of services as in the past.”

She said Southwest Regional developed agreements with other regional providers to accept patients that need this level of care where onsite physician monitoring is provided around the clock.

“We believe the right thing to do is to ensure that the people of Greene County receive the appropriate level of care for all their healthcare needs,” Cowie said.

The regional providers available to provide this high intensity level of services are Ruby Memorial in Morgantown, W.Va.; West Penn Allegheny Health Systems, Mon General, UPMC and Washington Hospital.

Southwest Regional is also in the process of updating rooms on the third floor and the emergency department with fresh paint, flooring and wireless Internet access. The current intensive care unit will transition to an Intermediate Care Unit, to allow for specialized treatment and monitoring of hospital patients.

“We have consistently heard our patients’ request for single rooms,” said Cowie. “Making these changes will allow us the space to make this a reality and provide a more private and restful environment for healing.”

Southwest Regional is also following a national trend by opening an outpatient observation area. This observation area will serve patients who (because of insurance standards) do not meet traditional admission criteria, but still need additional monitoring or testing within the hospital setting. While some outpatient observation patients still stay overnight in the hospital, the level of care provided is different than a traditional admission.

“Because of changes in reimbursement, hospitals across the country are adding observation areas,” Cowie said. “The medical and nursing staffs have created standardized processes for outpatient observation patients, which are based on their conditions. We expect this new process to create efficiencies and help us to survive the massive reimbursement cuts by insurance companies which have been made, while also providing greater consistency and outcomes for patients. This outpatient observation area will allow us to provide faster feedback and address patient needs more effectively.”

Conditions such as congestive heart failure, pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are sometimes classified as outpatient observation patients. All insurance companies require the use of observation status for patients who do not meet inpatient criteria.

Jay Hammers, SRMC board chairman said, “As someone who has supported the hospital through many good and also some challenging times, I want to provide assurance to the community that these changes are being made in an effort to be proactive to the rapidly changing world of healthcare. While these choices are never easy, I feel a sense of optimism for the future in knowing we are supported by RegionalCare Hospital Partners and their commitment in helping us weather these unprecedented challenges and I feel confident that our hospital will continue to thrive and do well for many years to come.”

Southwest Regional’s emergency department, staffed by board certified physicians, will continue to operate in the same manner as before. The emergency department has grown from serving approximately 12,000 patients in 2005 to approximately 24,000 today.

“In today’s changing world of healthcare, we are glad we can continue to be part of providing care close to home for our community. We want everyone to feel secure in knowing we will be here when they need us; offering the appropriate level of care for today’s community health needs,” Cowie said.

The changes are all expected to take place before the end of 2013.

Jon Stevens was the Observer-Reporter’s Greene County bureau chief. During his 41 years with the O-R, he covered county government, courts and politics, and won statewide and regional writing awards.

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