Hospital making necessary moves
It is perhaps a sign of the times – rural hospitals making difficult and unpopular, yet necessary, decisions in the way they will proceed to provide health care for the communities they serve.
Such was the case last week when Southwest Regional Medical Center in Waynesburg announced it was instituting a series of bold changes, necessitated primarily by reductions in payment from insurers. Cindy Cowie, the medical center’s chief executive officer, put it this way: “We are making changes that will allow us to provide the level of care that’s right for our community. In today’s health-care 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.”
In addition, 29 employees from different areas of the hospital, from nurses to cafeteria workers, were laid off. 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 option, reducing the impact of non-voluntary layoffs to 15.
As a result of these changing national health-care trends, it is clear to us that Southwest Regional found itself in a sink-or-swim mode. We expect these decisions were not made without a great deal of thought and discussion, as well as considering the consequences if nothing were done.
While the initial adjustments made by Southwest Regional are digested by the staff and community, we would remind those who might think this is the beginning of the end for the hospital to understand that by not taking the steps announced last week, the hospital’s future would be, as a board member said, “calamitous.”
Fortunately, Southwest Regional is owned by RegionalCare Hospital Partners Inc., a for-profit company based in Brentwood, Tenn. RegionalCare merged with Essent Healthcare, which purchased the former Greene County Memorial Hospital in 2005. Having that backing gives Southwest Regional some financial breathing room.
We would suspect other community hospitals similar in size and scope to Southwest Regional are considering, or have already launched, similar changes in the way it provides health care. If they have not, they had better.
Southwest Regional had the foresight and courage to initiate these changes, whether popular or not, to ensure its survival, at least for now.