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Hospitals cutting payrolls to cope with hard times

A recent series of job cuts shows that tough financial times remain for the state’s hospitals – and may get worse next year, experts say.

The biggest cuts have come in two hospital systems in Columbus.

Columbus Regional Health eliminated 219 positions in a cost-reduction move in November. The cuts came after a $17 million operating loss in fiscal 2013 and a similar loss in fiscal 2014, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reported. The job cuts included 99 terminations.

Later in the month, St. Francis Hospital, also in Columbus, eliminated 65 filled positions and 15 vacant positions while grappling with a $30 million accounting inaccuracy it discovered in October.

Newton Medical Center

Newton Medical Center

And last Friday, 23 employees of Newton Medical Center in Covington were affected by staff cuts, the Rockdale Citizen reported.

The layoffs are not at the level that Georgia hospitals pursued during the depths of the recession. And they may be partly a sign of necessary belt-tightening during difficult times.

Still, hospital industry officials see that the current revenue trends aren’t positive. full story

Grady says figures prove Blue Cross is unfair

Grady Health System has released financial data that it says buttresses its argument that it has been paid unfairly by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia.

It’s the latest salvo in the contract battle between the major Atlanta safety-net provider and the state’s biggest health insurer.

Grady Memorial Hospital

Grady Memorial Hospital

Since late November, Grady Memorial Hospital has been “out of network’’ for Blue Cross’s health plan members after contract renewal negotiations between the two organizations broke down.

Because those talks failed to produce a deal, patients with Blue Cross insurance face higher out-of-pocket costs at the Atlanta hospital.

Grady has mounted a vigorous media campaign asserting that it has been underpaid by Blue Cross for years. Blue Cross has issued arguments against Grady’s stance in a less publicized way.

The newly presented financial figures, Grady says, were based on a 2012 study facilitated by a national hospital association and compiled by an independent consulting group.

“Because we are still negotiating with Blue Cross, we didn’t want to share details – but the insurer is misinforming the public so it is important we share the facts,’’ Grady says in announcing the study results. full story

State putting together Ebola hospital network

Georgia public health officials are assembling a tiered system among the state’s hospitals for identifying and treating Ebola patients.

Dr. Patrick O'Neal

Dr. Patrick O’Neal

And they hope to have it in place this month, with the hospitals publicly identified as treatment facilities in the state.

The plan was outlined by Dr. Patrick O’Neal, director of health protection for the Georgia Department of Public Health, at the agency’s board meeting Tuesday.

“Georgia has done an outstanding job in preparation for Ebola,’’ said O’Neal, who credited leadership by Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, the agency’s commissioner.

“We’ve led much of the country,’’ he said. “Our hospitals and health care providers have stepped up.’’ full story

Sagging rural hospital tries to get an urban boost

A struggling rural hospital in east-central Georgia hopes to gain firmer financial footing  through a new partnership with University Health Care System in Augusta.

University Health Care will manage Washington County Regional Medical Center in Sandersville beginning Jan. 1, under an agreement announced Monday.

univSuch rural hospitals and their survival have been a focus for political leaders in Georgia after the closure of four of these facilities in the past two years.

Jimmy Lewis of HomeTown Health, an organization of rural hospitals in Georgia, said recently that besides the four closures, 15 more facilities are “financially fragile.” Six of those, he said, “could go tomorrow due to low cash.”

Those financial pressures led Gov. Nathan Deal to appoint a Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee, which last week concluded its hearings with a public comment period.

Earlier this year, Washington County Regional Medical Center  discontinued non-emergency baby deliveries because of financial losses, joining the more than 40 hospitals in rural areas in Georgia that have given up deliveries due to costs. full story

Grady using tough ads in Blue Cross dispute

The starkly worded ads call it an issue of fairness.

With full-page advertisements in newspapers and through TV commercials, Grady Health System has ramped up its media campaign to bring attention to what it says are unfair payments from Georgia’s largest insurer.

unnamed“Blue Cross Blue Shield pushed Grady out of its network,’’ say the ads in the Wall Street Journal and the AJC, which appeared in editions this week.

Grady Memorial Hospital and its clinics, as of Nov. 24, are “out of network’’ for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia’s health plan members after contract negotiations between the two organizations broke off late last month.

Though the two sides had appeared far apart on what the safety-net hospital system would be paid for services, the collapse of the contract negotiations came as a surprise. Almost invariably, pay disputes between insurers and hospital systems are resolved before an existing agreement expires, though often in the final hours before the deadline. full story

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