Over the last three years, 20 patients accounted for 1,088 visits to the Emergency Center at Gordon Hospital. According to hospital officials, the visits, which were largely uncompensated, averaged 18 times per year per patient or 1.5 times per month.
According to national statistics, the average emergency room visit costs approximately $1,000. Gordon Hospital collected a total of $1,358 from these 1,088 visits during this three year period.
The statistics, which were compiled by the hospital from 2006 to 2008, are startling and show a trend that is growing nationally. Gordon Hospital opened its new Emergency Center in May 2008, budgeting a projected number of visits per month. “Last year, we experienced a 14 percent growth in emergency volume,” says Pete Weber, president and CEO of Gordon Hospital. “This year, we are projecting an additional growth of 19 percent.”
The new 17,000 square foot Emergency Center was designed and built to accommodate patients for the next 10 years or so; however, a year into the new building hospital officials say they are near capacity.
Compounding the issues of growth and space is this issue of over utilization. Todd Hold, MD, with Georgia Emergency Care, PC, who contracts to provide the physician staffing for Gordon Hospital’s Emergency Center, says it is difficult to balance the care of the masses with the care of a few.
“We continually strive to get people in and out as quickly as possible, but when patients are coming in routinely for the same ailments, it slows down the system. We still want to provide the best care and testing based on the complaint. For instance, if someone comes in complaining of chest pain, then we have to make sure that we check everything out with all the labs and tests that we need to do even though they might have been in the day before complaining of the same thing. It’s a delicate balance and unfortunately our other patients are paying the price with longer wait times.”
“We are by no means discouraging people from coming to the emergency room when they need to, but we just want people to know that this is an issue that we are dealing with and may be why you are having to wait to be treated,” says Jennie Banks, RN, MSN, director of critical care at Gordon Hospital. Adding, “As a not-for-profit Christian hospital we want to provide care to those that need it, but we also want to make sure that we are meeting the needs of all of our patients, and not just a few.”
What Does Not-For-Profit Mean?
With the hospital collecting just $1,358 on these 1,088 visits, the reimbursement is virtually non-existent for both the hospital and the physicians treating the patients.
“Ideally, the solution would be to add physicians to get patients in and out quicker,” says Dr. Hold. “But when you aren’t getting paid for the visits that you are seeing, we financially can’t afford to do that.”
The hospital struggles with a not-for-profit identity crisis because people oftentimes don’t understand what a not-for-profit truly is; thinking a not-for-profit means free. In reality, a not-for-profit entity, like Gordon Hospital, uses money left over from operations in each year’s fiscal budget and reinvests it into the hospital buildings and grounds, purchasing the latest technology, and providing salaries so that it can continue to expand and grow services for its patient populations. Gordon Hospital’s board of trustees is a volunteer, non-paid board. The members serving on the board do so to improve the quality of health care for Calhoun and Gordon County.
On the contrary, a for-profit hospital takes those same left over monies and distributes it to shareholders in the company. They also use funds to make capital improvements and technology improvements, but do so in addition to paying dividends to the shareholders.
“Being a not-for-profit doesn’t mean that we don’t want to do well financially,” says Weber. “Doing well is the difference between being able to add services for our community and not being able to.”
When asked if the economics of today has had an effect, hospital officials believe that the recession probably has contributed some, but not all. “The few individuals who are frequently using the emergency room were doing so before the recession truly started,” says Cory Reeves, chief financial officer for Gordon Hospital. “Although, the economy probably has contributed to some of the volume increase, we do not think that it is a factor in these 1,088 visits.”
Realizing the problem and educating those that are the frequent users is at the core of the solution say hospital officials.
“When you see this type of exploding growth with little reimbursement, it’s an issue that we need to address,” says Weber, “so that we can continue to provide the care our community needs. We are blessed to have such a wonderful, caring community who are supportive of our hospital. We will tackle this issue and move forward to the benefit of all of our patients.”