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Gifford Medical Center back on track financially after federal virus relief money

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/26/2020 9:39:09 PM
Modified: 8/26/2020 9:39:04 PM

RANDOLPH — With the help of federal COVID-19 relief funds and various belt-tightening efforts, Gifford Medical Center is expecting to end its fiscal year in September in the black and hopes to continue that trend into 2021, hospital leaders told state regulators during a virtual budget hearing on Wednesday.

Members of the Green Mountain Care Board commended Gifford’s leaders for their success both in navigating the challenges of the pandemic and in turning around the Randolph hospital’s finances following a few years of operating losses.

Gifford officials reported that they expect to end the fiscal year with a positive operating margin of $1.3 million on a total operating budget of $51.4 million. That’s an improvement over last year’s loss on operations of $413,000 and much improved from the $5.37 million deficit Gifford saw in 2018.

“I think that you and everyone at Gifford is really focused on keeping your organization alive and healthy for the long term,” care board chairman Kevin Mullin said. “Keep up the great work.”

The turnaround has required that the 25-bed hospital fill staff vacancies in general surgery and orthopedics, which help bring in patients and new revenue, as well as cut costs across the organization, CEO Dan Bennett said.

In response to the pandemic, Gifford offered employees a voluntary furlough, which as many as 66 people, or about 10% of the workforce, took at the peak of the pandemic.

It also did not offer a planned 3% wage increase and temporarily halted construction on a new women’s health center that is slated to go in the space that was occupied by the hospital’s birthing center before it moved down the hall in 2016. The health centercenter, which was previously scheduled to open next month, is now set for completion by the end of the year and to open in January, Bennett said.

These efforts to keep costs down were necessary because the hospital saw revenues dip about $5 million from March through June, due to delaying procedures and limiting patient visits during the peak of the pandemic. The hospital also benefited from more than $5.4 million in COVID-19 relief funds at least in part through the federal CARES Act.

Gifford was “fortunate to get through the period” from May through July “unscathed essentially,” said Gifford’s interim vice president of finance Wayne Bennett, who is no relation to the hospital CEO.

Gifford was close to on budget before March, Wayne Bennett said. It also benefited from investments that have performed well both before the peak of COVID-19 and after it.

Though Gifford has done well to this point, as the pandemic and workforce challenges continue the future is uncertain, Dan Bennett said. Gifford proposed a budget of $52.58 million, with a positive operating margin of $986,772 for fiscal year 2021.

“Our budget assumes that we are able to avoid the types of disruptions in care and the types of disruptions to life that people experienced” this spring, Dan Bennett said. “If that does repeat, all of those assumptions will need to change.”

In addition, Dan Bennett said the workforce challenges Gifford was already experiencing before the pandemic have gotten worse as employees who are parents have struggled with child care.

“We are concerned about the ability of our employees to be able to show up on a daily basis with all the things they have to deal with,” he said.

Gifford plans to continue to participate in the state’s accountable care organization’s contracts with Medicaid and MVP in 2021, Dan Bennett said. The contracts with the health insurers through OneCare, the ACO, pay Gifford a per-patient fee instead of based on the services provided and are a key piece of the state’s effort to reform health care.

Due to the risk involved, Gifford does not plan to participate in other such contracts in the near term, Bennett said. Because the hospitals are reimbursed on a per-patient basis, instead of for services provided, they could lose money if some patients need more care than expected.

Taking on that risk has been difficult for some of the state’s hospitals and some, including Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center in Windsor, have said they aren’t certain they’ll be able to continue to participate in the contracts as they have previously.

Still, Gifford is working to improve the hospital’s ability to analyze patient data to improve care and outcomes for patients, Dan Bennett said. Doing so will improve the likelihood of the hospital’s success with such contracts in the future, he said.

At the end of the hearing, Vermont’s Chief Health Care Advocate Michael Fisher asked Dan Bennett what plans Gifford has to address structural racism and implicit bias in light of recent events around the country.

Bennett said Gifford has established a group to work on ensuring that Gifford is a “welcoming environment.” In addition, Gifford’s leaders and board members are slated to participate in a training session on implicit bias, which may then be integrated more broadly into staff training opportunities, Bennett said.

“We are going to do that work,” he said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.




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