OCH talks plans to address income shortfall

OCH Administrator Richard Hilton (courtesy)
Staff Writer

Both the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors and OCH Regional Medical Center answered questions at the Greater Starkville Development Partnership's public forum regarding the referendum vote on whether to sell the hospital.

One of the questions OCH Administrator Richard Hilton answered is how OCH plans on addressing the income shortfall of this past year. The question also asked how it will ensure long-term financial stability.

Hilton said the public is being pushed to believe OCH has not experienced revenue growth, but OCH has experienced an annual increase in total patient revenues.

He said insurance payers continue shifting coverage to outpatient care while reducing insurance payments, which has caused an increase in deductions, impacting the bottom line.

"Hospitals throughout the state and the country are currently experiencing what OCH has with variable impact on their bottom line," Hilton said.

OCH has already began efforts with department managers and supervisors to look at ways to reduce spending. Hilton said these ways include looking at reducing service line costs through better inventory control, evaluate new services that could positively impact the bottom line and reviewing reimbursement for highest volume procedures.

Hilton said cost reductions have already been implemented in the new fiscal year.

These reductions include contracted services such as billing and waste disposal, reprocessed sterile supplies and travel related to continuing education.

One way to improve the financial stability, Hilton said, is to have the discussions of selling the hospital away from potential job candidates. He said for the past three years recruiters and potential physicians expressed concern about OCH selling, who were then reluctant to consider employment or not interested due to potential of sale.

"The key to future success is physician recruitment and retention," Hilton said. "The first step is to get past the Nov. 7 referendum and show potential physician recruits that the sale or lease of OCH is no longer an issue."

Another strategy Hilton said OCH is con sidering includes an affiliation with a health system that allows OCH to continue providing community-oriented services. He said an affiliation is different from a merger because it allows local input.

"An affiliation to be considered will allow OCH to remain under local control while expanding its services derived through mutual arrangements," Hilton said. "OCH can have an opportunity by economies of connection through system affiliation."

Hilton said three CEO's have reached out to him and the board of trustees to discuss possible affiliation. Although, due to the board hiring consultant Ted Woodrell and Stroudwater, Hilton said some of those conversations have come to a halt.

One CEO in particular told Hilton it will be watching what happens with the referendum vote before discussing further.

"With three CEOs expressing direct interest in affiliating with OCH, this brings a unique opportunity worth exploring that can help meet OCH's needs for expanding its physician specialty services, that are not currently available, in order to help market share retention," Hilton said.