Leader Blues

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

TOP STORY > >Hospital will stay open, officials say

Leader staff writer

Amid persistent rumors that North Metro Regional Medical Center is on the verge of closing, Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim, who also serves as chairman of the hospital’s board of directors, issued a statement Tuesday saying emphatically that the facility will remain open.

Scott Landrum, the medical center’s CEO, this week also denied that there is any truth to the talk around town and among hospital employees that the city-owned hospital, which has served the greater Jacksonville community since the 1960s, is going to shut its doors, despite persistent financial troubles.

“There is no intent to close this hospital,” Landrum said in a lengthy interview, in which he candidly discussed current challenges the hospital faces. “The board members are very adamant about this hospital continuing.”

Landrum said that one critical question up for review by the board is whether the hospital should continue as an acute-care provider, as it has done historically, or become a “specialty hospital.”

Change is possible also for the hospital’s relationship with the physicians who provide services at the hospital-owned outpatient clinics in Jacksonville and Cabot. Landrum would not provide details of any proposals or negotiations other than to say that the current “employee model” is under review and that a decision about a “partnership” is expected in about two months.

To the same point, Swaim stated: “…the board is in the process of evaluating possible relationships with other health-care providers in the area, both public and private. No commitments have been made and none will be entered into, if at all, until thorough consideration is given to the long-term needs of patients, physicians, employees and the community at large.”

Landrum was hired a year ago as hospital administrator to solve its persistent financial problems. Since he came on board full-time in July 2007, the medical center has undergone a thorough sprucing up inside and out, taken a new name, modified how floor nursing care is delivered, made changes in nursing leadership, added services and in Landrum’s words, “put some teeth in the customer-service program.”

Still, with all the changes, Landrum calls the north Pulaski County health care market the “most difficult marketing situation” he has encountered in his 28-year career in hospital administration.

Competing with two larger hospitals within a 10-minute drive is the main problem, according to Landrum. Both Baptist North and St. Vincent North have lots of marketing resources, which help attract the kind of patient mix that translates into a healthy revenue stream.

In contrast, Landrum contends, North Metro serves a higher percentage of patients either without health-care coverage or who have Medicare, Medicaid or Tricare insurance. These insurance programs reimburse for services at a lower rate than do private companies.

For every dollar of services provided by North Metro, the return currently is about 36 cents. Landrum wants to see that improved.

“I would like that to be 55 cents per dollar – that is a good number for a hospital,” he said.