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By Dan Rudy 

Hospital board reviews finances, budget draft


Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

Head of Foraker Group Dennis McMillian (at right) meets with Wrangell medical and borough officials on a site visit at the Alaska Island Community Services facility Friday morning. An Anchorage-based nonprofit specializing in assisting other nonprofits, Foraker may work with Wrangell Medical Center on predevelopment for a future hospital facility.

Wrangell Medical Center's board examined a preliminary draft of its budget for next year and were updated on the hospital's finances during its monthly meeting Jan. 21.

Over the next couple of years, the board was told WMC's financial staff plans to work on lowering its receivables from around $4 million to a target of $2 million, by working more closely with Medicaid on getting bills repaid, pursuing payment from families and self-pay customers with current outstanding bills, and training medical records staff to do coding.

Medicaid's billing system has been experiencing problems with its computer software, mishandling payments and otherwise slowing down the billing process state-wide. Alaska joined other state governments in filing a lawsuit against Xerox, the program's creator, the results of which financial consultant Olinda White said WMC will follow closely.

The hospital last month received payment of $400,000 from Medicaid, about half the amount owed, but will continue to resubmit bills for the remaining amount due.

"The payments are starting to come in better," said WMC CEO Marla Sanger. She was unsure whether this is due to a statewide improvement or the result of increased attention from the financial staff.

Overall, the hospital's finances have started to see an improvement, with general operations functioning comparably to this time last year.

"Things have stabilized quite nicely," said Sanger.

Following the completion of its annual cost and audit reports, the next step in the hospital's financial cycle is to examine its cost structure for medical services. The WMC finance department recommended that fees be raised in advance of Medicaid setting the rate structure it will use for billing for the next four years. Sanger reported the fees have not been adjusted since 2012.

The board approved an amendment to further revise its new budget, after White noted some figures were out of date and needed adjusting. Following the departure of CFO Dana Strong last fall, White has come out of retirement to fill that role in the interim as a consultant.

The hunt for a new chief financial officer is currently underway. Candidate Lee Bennett paid Wrangell's hospital a visit earlier this month, meeting with staff and hospital board members. Bennett had been the CFO of Sitka Community Hospital until December, when he resigned following reports of problems with the hospital's finances.

"We made a decision to continue using the services of Olinda White on a consultative basis," said Sanger. She said that though there were things WMC appreciated about Bennett, with White's previous history at the hospital she works well with staff and is familiar with its finances.

"She's very knowledgeable about billing processes and filing reports," Sanger explained.

The board also approved changes affecting employees' health plan insurance deductibles and eliminating its employee discount policy. Sanger explained the change was recommended by the hospital's insurance broker, in an effort to reduce the risk of additional taxes on the health plans WMC provides under provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

The policy change had already received approval from Wrangell City and Borough Assembly at its Jan. 13 meeting, and notices will be going out to staff this week.

New speech and occupational therapists began work this week as well, Kristen Glaze and Jim DeBord, respectively.

"It's a full department now," commented Kris Reed, the hospital's development coordinator.

"It really rounds out our program," said Sanger, explaining it will expand the scope of the hospital's rehabilitation services and improve overall service.

Sanger, hospital board members, Alaska Island Community Services staff and Wrangell borough officials later met Friday with CEO Dennis McMillian of Foraker Group, an Anchorage-based nonprofit that assists other Alaska nonprofits with management and business development.

The hospital would like Foraker's assistance in predevelopment for constructing a future hospital. McMillian toured the proposed site, near the AICS facility which opened last June.

"It went really, really well," Sanger said, with McMillian partaking in several meetings during his visit. "We also had them meet with our financial people and also with our leadership team."


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