Originally created 11/27/98

Weston Medical Center recovering

Financial problems at the Margaret J. Weston Medical Center are on the mend sufficiently to warrant the hiring of a new medical director, according to center director Tony Dunn.

"Medicare billing problems have been completely straightened out and patient encounters are on the way up," he said.

The rural health center's financial and administrative woes were uncovered last spring in a program review by the regional office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The problems included a decrease in the number of patient visits, some of which resulted from faulty bookkeeping and errors in reporting patient encounters to the appropriate federal agency.

With improvements made in both areas, Mr. Dunn said, the center's revenues are increasing.

"We estimate that for the time period from December 1997 to September 1998, we will collect $57,000 from Medicare," he said.

Much of this money is a result of resubmitting claims returned by the federal agency because of past billing errors.

Shortly after the Clearwater center's financial and administrative problems became public knowledge following a scathing report by the federal agency, patient visits declined from 900 in May to a low of 801 in July. Since then, the patient load has steadily increased to a high of 881 encounters in October.

Mr. Dunn attributed the decline in patients to "bad publicity" and a drop from four to two health care providers caused by the resignations of Dr. Clarence Flanigan, who was medical director, and nurse practitioner Candace Waters. Presently, the center is served by an acting medical director, Dr. Andrea Bruce, and nurse practitioner Mona Flanigan. They are assisted by three licensed practical nurses and part-time help two days a week from private-practice physicians.

"We're seeing as many patients as we can with the number of providers we currently have," Mr. Dunn said.

Next week, the center in rural Aiken County will begin advertising for a medical director in local and state media and in national primary care publications. The salary for the position ranges from $105,000 to $125,000, depending on experience and qualifications.

The center has been without a financial director for years, an absence deemed critical in the federal report issued in April. Nonetheless, there are no plans fill the job.

"Right now, we're concentrating on another physician so we can see more patients," Mr. Dunn said. "Another physician will generate additional revenue."

The center is still awaiting a report from a program audit completed in September by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services. The report is expected by year's end.

Pat Willis can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augusta



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