Annual check-up: Hospital CEO reports to council

By Bob Buckel | Published Wednesday, January 16, 2013

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The Decatur City Council Monday evening got its annual report on the “fitness” of Wise Regional Health System.

In spite of a still-sputtering economy and shifting and tightening federal health-care policies, the local health-care entity is in good shape – and looking to “expand its footprint” in several directions during the coming year.

The city council appoints the members of the Decatur Hospital Authority board, which governs WRHS, but the hospital is self-sustaining, has no taxing authority and does not receive funds from the city.

Steve Summers, CEO, reported to the council that Wise Regional Health System is “financially sound and will exceed the reserve requirement set under our bond covenants from 2006.” The hospital employs more than 1,000 people – 800 full-time – and has an annual payroll of around $50 million.

In a key barometer of “community benefit”, last year Wise Regional provided $34 million worth of uncompensated care to 12,000 people in the area it serves. That total, about double last year’s number, includes both charity care and Medicare reimbursement that was written off.

That uncompensated care is one reason WRHS continues to expand into services that do pay, such as an imaging center in Fort Worth, a new physical therapy office and a second dialysis center to open in Saginaw in April, and the new surgical hospital opening at I-35 and North Tarrant Parkway in Fort Worth in 2014 – which just broke ground a few weeks ago.

The surgery center is something Summers is particularly looking forward to.

“A lot of health care providers are going out and providing services in that high-population area,” he noted, pointing out that Texas Health Resources just opened its new full-service hospital, Texas Health Alliance, a few months ago, and HCA recently announced plans to put a hospital just across from Wise Regional’s new facility.

“We don’t see that as a negative at all,” Summers said. “In fact, having a full-service hospital in that area is potentially a benefit to us. Ours is a more boutique environment where we will cater to the surgeons and patients – and that’s what a lot of folks are looking for these days.”

Wise Regional also has a bid on the table to purchase North Texas Community Hospital in Bridgeport. If there are other bids, an auction will be held in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Fort Worth on Jan. 28.

“As many as five entities have signed non-disclosure agreements to get access to those documents,” Summers said. “There’s been a lot of interest in looking at it after it was advertised nationally. We’ll see how that goes. We should know by the end of this month.”

WRHS also plans to continue developing relationships with hospitals in Jack and Montague counties, and is also working with Children’s Medical Center of Dallas through their Southlake clinic in a program designed to enhance access to care and provide more services to underserved residents.

Summers said the hospital recently completed its accreditation survey through the Joint Commission, a national organization that sets standards for more than 20,000 health-care providers. Summers said the survey, which is conducted every three years, went well.

“I’m proud to say we met that accreditation with flying colors and no follow-ups,” he said.

WRHS also assisted with the Wise County Community Health Center startup, providing facilities in the West Campus across the road from the main hospital. The clinic is seeing more Medicaid patients, helping relieve the main hospital’s busy emergency department while also “doing a better job” for those patients, Summers said.

Summers also touched on the hospital’s “Lap-Bandwagon” which goes to the metroplex and other cities to provide lap-band adjustments and other bariatric services. He also noted WRHS is a certified Chest Pain Center and a Primary Stroke Center – both designations that come with stringent requiremens.

“In 2013 we should have more people insured, which means more people accessing health care,” he said. “That’s one reason we’re looking at expanding our footprint, being able to provide more services.”

To maximize federal dollars, the hospital is looking closely at patient satisfaction scores – which will start being tied to reimbursement payments – and continuing the four-year process to convert to electronic medical records. Another goal, Summers said, is to reach an investment-grade bond rating in 2014 so the hospital can refinance its debt and save some interest.

With Mayor Martin Woodruff and councilmember Susan Cocanougher both recusing themselves, the four remaining councilmembers reappointed Jon Walker, M.D., Chris Forbis, Gary Cocanougher and Jay Bearden to the Decatur Hospital Authority board of directors, until December 2014.

Forbis has served on the board since 1994, while Walker was appointed in 2000, Bearden in 2007 and Cocanougher in 2011.

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