published Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Numbers improve for Chattanooga's public hospitals

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The Chattanooga area's two public hospitals had their best numbers in more than year in May, with Erlanger Health System posting it's first monthly profit since August and North Georgia's Erlanger at Hutcheson seeing it's smallest losses in two years.

Erlanger officials also presented their budget for next year, predicting a 4.3 percent growth in admissions and a $10.8 million profit on total operating revenues of $597 million.

Chief financial officer Britt Tabor said the budget presented to the public hospital's finance committee Monday night was conservative on revenues.

"I'd rather be on the conservative side," Tabor told the trustees during the presentation.

Both hospitals have struggled in the last year. Erlanger, which took over management of Erlanger at Hutcheson in May 2011, has lost more than $15 million this year. Smaller Hutcheson has had six-figure losses nearly every month.

In May, Erlanger posted a profit of $2.6 million, but that included disproportionate share funding from the state of $750,000 and a Medicare settlement of $3.3 million.

The Medicare settlement was from a nationwide formula error made several years ago, Tabor said.

The hospital had an improvement in it's previously declining surgery numbers, going from a surgical mix of 30 percent in April to 33 percent in May.

Tabor said it is likely Erlanger will break even in June, based on numbers so far.

CEO Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson praised hospital staff for their hard work in improving the number of surgeries. She jokingly told the finance committee that if they hadn't been approached to have a surgery at Erlanger, they could expect it soon.

At Hutcheson, May losses came in at $481,000, much less than that $1.3 million loss it had budgeted and the millions it has lost in previous months.

"It may be hard to get excited about a $481,000 loss, but compared to previous months we are very pleased," Hutcheson's CEO Roger Forgey told the committee. "Hopefully, we will be able to sustain this."

The loss was the least the hospital has had since May 2010, officials said.

The board of trustees will vote on the Erlanger budget during its meeting Thursday evening.

The budget includes a 5 percent average charge increase in nonsupply revenue on things such as surgical procedures and patient day charges. Tabor said the hospital included the increase every year, but it did not affect patients that already had their rates set, such as insured patients.

The budget also includes $1.5 million in funding from Hamilton County, $6 million in disproportionate share funding from the state's TennCare budget, $9 million the hospital receives as a safety net hospital and $1.7 million in government trauma funding.

So far this year, the hospital has provided nearly $81 million in uncompensated care costs.

The outside funding comprises about 3 percent of the total budget, Trustee Jennifer Stanley noted.

Contact staff writer Mariann Martin at mmartin@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6324.

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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