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FCH to discuss ambulances, SCU work at May 10 meeting

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By Dave Bell

The Fayette County Hospital District Board on Monday discussed several issues, but after meeting for more than two hours, voted to recess its meeting until May 10 to deal with two items of special interest.

On the agenda for that meeting will be further discussions about the future of the hospital’s ambulance service and a renovation project that would shut down the FCH special care unit for several days.

The board opted for the recessed meeting in two weeks so that those two items didn’t go a full month without action being taken on them. The meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, May 10, at the hospital.

Though the hospital’s future involvement in the ambulance service wasn’t discussed extensively in Monday’s meeting, it did come up in the unfinished business portion of the meeting. At that time, board chairman Delbert Miller and board member Jim Lay reported that they had taken a trip to Troy to see one of the district’s ambulances. That unit – a 2000 Freightliner – has been sitting at a truck repair company for several months.

“We’ve been told that it can be fixed,” Lay said. “but it has quite a few issues. We should get it fixed or sell it.”

He said that the vehicle has never been used since it was purchased several years ago by a former manager of the FCH emergency department. Funds raised by Friends & Families of Fayette County Hospital were used to purchase two similar ambulance units; one has been in service, but the one now in Troy has never has carried a patient, Lay said.

He said that $27,000 was paid for one unit and $23,000 for the other. Both were used.

It was noted that a new ambulance costs about $134,000.

“Delbert and I went down to Troy to get this thing off center,” Lay said. “We have to make a decision whether to fix it or sell it.”

The situation sparked a spirited conversation between members of the board and Heartland Health System about who should determine the projects for which Friends & Families money will be used.

“I think Heartland should have a part in deciding what we need,” said Louie Vetter of Heartland. “This board is not controlling the requests.”

Lay countered: “Just give us a little involvement. Once those items are purchased, they become the property of the district.”

Board member Nancy Pryor also stressed the importance of board input.

“Friends & Families does great things for the hospital, but we need to provide some input on the projects they fund.”

On the issue of the hospital’s future involvement in the ambulance service, the board is continuing to study the situation. Though the hospital loses money on the ambulance service, the board has not decided the best direction for the service.

The hospital last year responded to about 1,200 ambulance calls.

In February, Terry White of Altamont Ambulance Service told the board that he plans to start offering ambulance service in the county by mid-year. He told the board that he could offer better equipment and service than the hospital’s current system.

He also told the board that once he’s established here, the county’s 911 dispatchers would be obligated to alternate between the two ambulance providers when emergency calls are received.

At Monday’s meeting, Heartland’s CFO Pete Fromme reported that in 2009, the ambulance service generated revenues of $498,000, but had expenses of about $686,000. It’s difficult to assess the full financial picture of the service, he said, because the ambulance personnel help in the emergency room and in other areas of the hospital when they aren’t on an ambulance run.

About 3.5 full-time-equivalent employees would be needed in the ER if the ambulance service is dropped, he said.

In his regular monthly financial report, Fromme said that the hospital produced another profit in March. Total revenues were about $218,000, while total expenses were about $166,000.

That produced a profit of nearly $52,000. After taking several cost-cutting measures late in 2009, the hospital’s year-to-date profits are nearly $148,000.

On the renovation project in the Special Care Unit, the hospital’s engineers are still waiting on the project’s approval from the state board of health and for final cost figures from Korte & Luitjohan Construction of Highland.

Those items are expected within the next few days, and that is the reason the board recessed its meeting until May 10, so work could begin as soon as possible.

Marci Barth, chief nursing officer, told the board that the hospital will be conducting opinion surveys of its employees and of the community in the near future.

Greg Starnes, hospital CEO, was not at the meeting. He was in Washington, D.C., attending a healthcare conference.