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Hospital seeking financial fix

River Valley Health System trustees sought further financial assistance from county commissioners Thursday – a day after the hospital board terminated its chief executive officer’s contract.

Friday, December 22, 2000

River Valley Health System trustees sought further financial assistance from county commissioners Thursday – a day after the hospital board terminated its chief executive officer’s contract.

These are tough decisions for a hospital confronted with mounting financial challenges, trustee Jim Weber said.

Weber told commissioners Thursday that even though employees face the Christmas season with the possibility that the doors could close, they are supportive.

"We feel we do have a vehicle now that could continue the hospital."

Weber did not elaborate on the amount of debt RVHS might face.

In a letter dated Wednesday, the board asked the county for an "immediate loan" of $200,000 to "meet payroll and vendor obligations for Dec. 22."

The board promised repayment of the loan by Dec. 29 from proceeds from the Medicare interim payment and Medicaid disbursements.

The loan will allow the hospital to meet immediate needs while a financial feasibility study is being completed, the board wrote. It also expects a report from outside consultants next week.

County commissioners asked about dollars expected from state sources, but did not take action on the $200,000 county request.

Commission president Bruce Trent complimented the hospital board on its work in facing recent challenges.

"The commission is dedicated to helping in any way it possibly can," he said.

Commissioners were expecting a phone call during the afternoon, but then adjourned about 5 p.m.

They were "unable to act," Trent said.

This morning, Weber said the hospital does have enough funds to make payroll, although it might not be complete for some administrative and medical staff.

The RVHS board also met with shift employees Thursday, explaining the hospital’s situation, Weber said.

"I think they all realize we have a tough job ahead of us but they’re willing to get behind the wagon with us," he said.

Support and patience from the medical staff and community allows trustees to move forward, keeping the hospital open, Weber said.

There have been questions about additional layoffs, but the board "will do everything we can to make sure there’s not," he said.

In recent weeks, trustees also have met with county leaders, state and federal lawmakers, the medical staff and local business officials in an effort to "save jobs," commissioners said.

Those meetings were not connected with Vanderhoof’s dismissal, Weber said.

After considering all options, the board decided the change in administration was necessary to turn things around, he said.

That’s not placing blame on anyone; that’s looking ahead, Weber said.

Next steps include working with Dr. Bill Dingus, who was appointed by commissioners to a financial committee, and liquidating some properties owned by the hospital, as well as waiting on Medicare fixes in federal government and Medicaid payments owed the hospital, Weber said.

Chief financial officer Sherri Davidson said the hospital has a business plan that will make RVHS profitable over the next year.

"As part of that plan, we are reducing operating expenses, finding ways to operate more efficiently, and exploring new sources of revenue," she said. "Our board of trustees is still in discussion with Genesis regarding an affiliation and we expect those talks to continue over the next few months."

In addition, all administrators took a 10 percent pay cut and the interim CEO, Dr. John Ross, said he would take that position with no pay increase – both considered another sign of support, Weber said.

Ironton city council chairman Jim Tordiff said the city would make every attempt to help RVHS, taking into consideration the instability of the city’s finances.

Ironton Mayor Bob Cleary said he could not provide specifics on the financial status of RVHS, but indicated the city could be instrumental in seeking outside help.

"I’ve attended the last couple of special meetings they’ve held," Cleary said. "The city’s going to continue looking at what we can do to help and we can try to help in any way we can but, we do have our own financial troubles."

He said keeping a health care facility in Ironton is top priority for the city.