While there are still many hurdles to be cleared, local healthcare officials are optimistic about the financial and operational challenges facing the San Juan Health Service District.
Interim Health District CEO Laurie Schafer says that collections have increased dramatically in the district, doubling from roughly $400,000 in January to more than $800,000 in March.
“We are current on all of our bills and our cash balance is growing,” said Schaefer, who adds that as progress is being made, “there are a lot more smiles on faces around here.”
As the cash situation has improved, Schafer reports that the personnel situation at the district is also improving. “We are actively recruiting new physicians from two recruiting firms and receiving resumes from other sources,” said Schafer.
She said the district is also reworking the terms of the physician contracts. “Our family practice physicians will work four days a week on a 40-hour-a-week contract, which includes additional emergency room call only if they want,” said Schafer.
The district plans to utilize more mid-level providers and a group of physician’s assistants to handle emergency room call.
The scramble for physicians is the result of the January resignations of Dr. Curtis Black, Dr. Paul Raey and Dr. Bryce Peterson. In addition, the contract of District CEO Phil Lowe was not renewed in December, 2013 and surgeon Kris Hayes lost his licensure.
Lowe was replaced by Schafer. Dr. Juan Carlos Vasquez is performing surgical services.
The three physicians are completing their contracts and will leave in coming months.
Schafer reports that a series of organizations have helped the district maneuver through the crisis, including the Utah Department of Health, University of Utah Medical Center, specialists in Grand Junction, CO and Provo, UT, and the Intermountain Medical Center (IMC).
District officials state that one event that helped trigger the financial challenge is the purchase of an expensive Electronic Medical Records (EMR) system from Cerner approximately one year ago.
The system cost $1.4 million to purchase and includes a $29,000 per month service fee. The monthly fee is now $25,000.
In addition to the internal developments, Shafer reports that there has been increased collaboration between the three health systems in San Juan County: San Juan Health Services, Blue Mountain Hospital, and Utah Navajo Health Systems.
A committee made up of representatives from all three organizations is meeting once a month.
They have developed a mission statement, which states: “By integrating and coordinating staff, processes and programs, all organizations will benefit by reducing duplication of programs and allowing patients greater choice and access throughout the county.”