Originally created 05/11/00

Revenue loss stresses Aiken medical center



WARRENVILLE -- Aiken Regional Medical Centers is feeling the stress of declining revenues and increasing demand for services, the hospital's chief executive officer told the Midland Valley Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

"Increasing demand and lower reimbursement for services is the challenge faced by health care providers," CEO Richard Satcher said.

Much of the financial stress comes from the balanced budget act passed by Congress years ago, which resulted in about $10 million less in yearly reimbursement for Medicare and Medicaid patients. That decline and the increasing number of patients admitted to the facility under managed care programs have forced health care centers throughout the country to tighten their belts.

"We get paid by what are called fixed or set payment rates, regardless of cost," Mr. Satcher said.

The declining reimbursements have resulted in some cutbacks in the hospital's staff, but Mr. Satcher contends there have been no major layoffs. During this budget year, hospital employment is down by the equivalent of 40 full-time employees.

Mr. Satcher said the hospital is undergoing a reorganization, making use of part-time employees and fewer full-time staff members. Most of the staff reductions have been done through attrition, he said.

About 50 percent of the medical center's patients are seniors citizens on Medicare; 17 to 18 percent are Medicaid patients; an additional 17 to 20 percent are insured under managed care programs. Eight to 10 percent are indigent or charity cases.

These nonpaying patients cost the hospital $6.8 million last year.

With 1,100 staff members and 120 physicians, the hospital's budget is $33 million annually. The average cost for one day's stay at Aiken Regional is $1,500 to $1,800.

"Everybody expects quality and complete access. Nobody is going to stand for second-rate health care," Mr. Satcher said.

To accomplish that standard, Aiken Regional adds an average of seven new physicians annually. The hospital expects to gain another psychiatrist this summer, along with a neurologist and a plastic surgeon.

Surgical services will expand from eight to 12 suites, and a second catheterization lab will be added. A two-story addition to the south side of the building will house a new intensive care unit, bringing the number of beds from 16 to 23.

Emergency rooms also will be expanded.

Reach Pat Willis at (803) 279-6895.