After bailout from the state, Springfield Hospital still struggling financially

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/10/2021 8:59:23 AM
Modified: 8/10/2021 8:59:28 AM

SPRINGFIELD, Vt. — On a sunny day earlier this month in the parking lot of Springfield Hospital, Sandra Hopkins, a speech language pathologist, seemed unable to say enough good things about the place where she’s worked on a contract basis since 2000.

“Things are feeling very optimistic,” said Hopkins, who was wearing black scrubs as she left the 25-bed critical access hospital to return to her home to Manchester Center, Vt.

Hopkins said the hospital is “critical” to the Springfield area both as an employer and as a health care provider.

“When there was worry that it might not be able to stay open,” Hopkins said, community members wondered, “where would we go?”

But, a revenue boost is necessary to ensure that community members don’t find themselves asking the same question again.

Operational expenses continue to outstrip revenues for the hospital, which exited Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December, according to the hospital’s filings with the Green Mountain Care Board.

Some of the ongoing revenue issues can be chalked up to the COVID-19 pandemic and a related reduction in visits, as well as recovery from the bankruptcy, but it’s not clear how much.

“We’re hopeful that it … ends up being a sustainable venture obviously,” said Andrea DeLaBruere, the executive director of the Vermont Agency of Human Services.

Springfield Hospital projects to finish the fiscal year on Sept. 30 with a negative operating margin of $3.35 million, more than 6% of its total budget of $52.6 million, according to filings with the GMCB.

That loss is smaller than the $5.3 million negative operating margin the hospital booked last year and the $9 million negative margin it booked in 2019.

As of July 15, when it filed its budget proposal with the GMCB, the hospital reported 18 days of cash on hand.

This is in spite of being the only hospital in the state to receive financial assistance in the past six months for “necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to COVID-19,” said DeLaBruere.

That $2 million in assistance was on top of $4 million the state gave the hospital in “exit funding” to help it get out of bankruptcy, as well as $800,000 the state loaned Springfield Medical Care Systems, the federally qualified health center that was tied to the hospital before those ties severed through the bankruptcy in early 2019.

As part of the bankruptcy, the health system also wrote off some $4.65 million in unpaid taxes owed the state of Vermont.

“I think it’s early in terms of determining trend lines and sustainability, but we’re monitoring it closely,” DeLaBruere said

In an effort to boost revenues, hospital officials are seeking the board’s approval to increase the rates it charges insurance companies by about 8%.

“This rate is being requested to continue the hospital’s recovery from both the pandemic and Chapter 11 to help ensure that operations remain sustainable in 2022, and that essential community hospital services (particularly scarce emergency department, surgery, medical/surgical & swing beds and psychiatry) continue to be available,” the hospital wrote in a narrative explaining its 2022 budget. “In the absence of the requested increase, Springfield Hospital will continue to face significant financial challenges in the coming year.”

Kevin Mullin, chairman of the Green Mountain Care Board, which oversees hospital budgets, said he couldn’t speak to a hospital’s specific budget requests, but he and other members of the board are closely following Springfield’s situation.

The hospital is seeing increases in visits to its emergency department in recent months and its 10-bed psychiatric facility in Bellows Falls is nearing capacity, “so that’s good for them,” Mullin said.

The average daily census was at about 12 inpatients per day in June and below that in July, he said.

“Springfield is still the hospital that we are the most concerned about,” said Mullin. “It’s really up to whether or not the people in the Springfield community are patronizing their hospital or going elsewhere.”

In Windsor, about half an hour up Interstate 91 from Springfield, Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center, a Dartmouth-Hitchcock affiliate, has seen a recent increase in volume, Mullin noted.

Mullin said he’d like to see hospitals in the I-91 corridor collaborate more.

In addition to Mt. Ascutney, other hospitals within an hour of Springfield include Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont; Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital in Lebanon; Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon; Grace Cottage Family Health & Hospital in Townshend, Vt.; Brattleboro (Vt.) Memorial Hospital; and Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, N.H.

Springfield Hospital provides needed capacity, especially in the emergency department, which sees more than 10,000 visits annually, and in its behavioral health program, said Robert Adcock, Springfield Hospital’s CEO, who started in April.

As part of Springfield’s restructuring, it separated from Springfield Medical Care Systems, although that relationship continues in that the two continue to refer to one another and to share some administrative services through a shared services agreement.

Other changes in the past few years included cost-cutting measures such as eliminating the hospital’s birthing center and switching groups providing emergency department and inpatient hospitalist services.

In 2022, in addition to the rate increase, Springfield Hospital is seeking to hire another general surgeon, as well as a podiatrist. It is considering adding a pain management program, according to the GMCB filing.

Hospital officials are optimistic that they can make revenues meet expenses.

“It is possible to bring the hospital to a positive margin and our team is working to achieve this goal,” said Adcock.

In addition to the pending rate request, Adcock said the hospital needs to increase visits lost to the pandemic and “let the community know that the hospital provides great care, close to home, that they can rely on.”

Tom Huebner, who has been keeping an eye on Springfield Hospital as a special assistant to Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, also has an optimistic view of the hospital’s future.

Huebner, a former CEO of Rutland Regional Medical Center, said revenues and patient volumes are improving, if more slowly than he had hoped.

“My own view is I think they’re going to make it,” he said.

In Springfield Hospital’s parking lot last week, Sara Muguira, office manager for Twin State Psychological Services that has an office on the hospital’s campus, said she felt some uncertainty about whether the office would remain open during the hospital’s bankruptcy. But, now things are on a more even keel.

A Springfield resident, Muguira said the hospital is “definitely a big part of the community.”

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




Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784
603-298-8711

 

© 2021 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy