Wrangell Sentinel -

By Dan Rudy 

Hospital lab to get new diagnostic devices


Wrangell’s hospital will be getting two new pieces of equipment for its laboratory.

The Wrangell Medical Center Board approved the leasing of a chemical analyzer and blood coagulation analyzer at its Jan. 20 meeting.

CEO Robert Rang explained the devices are crucial to the lab’s operations, accounting for around 90 percent of that department’s revenue.

Operationally, the machines are essential for diagnostics, emergency services and the long-term care program, and also are used for Alaska Island Community Services’ screenings.

The chemical analyzer is over a decade old, while the coagulation analyzer is about eight years old; each is past its seven-year life expectancy, and Rang said finding replacement parts will fast become a challenge.

“I want to be proactive and have that fixed before it goes down,” he said.

Brand-new, the machines respectively cost $111,000 and $25,000, and Rang presented several options to buy or lease them.

From a fiscal standpoint, CFO Doran Hammett recommended leasing both.

“Spending $135,000 would be about 20 percent of the cash you have on hand,” he explained, participating in the meeting by phone.

The machines would ultimately be paid for over a five-year period, at what Rang estimated would be a five-percent rate of interest. The hospital would be able to buy out the lease early at any time, and would get ownership at the end of the lease period. Hammett said the cost for the two devices would likely include a maintenance agreement, and the unplanned-for costs would need to be added to the budget going forward.

Chairing the meeting in Terri Henson’s absence, Bernie Massin questioned whether the hospital ought to start setting money aside for such expenditures.

“It’s not a bad idea to set that aside,” Hammett responded. Ideally, he said the hospital would set money aside to keep in line with its facilities’ depreciation. However, he added that covering such expenses was essentially what the hospital’s cash reserves were for.

“We have the money, we can cut a check,” Hammett said. “That’s not as big a decision as ‘how much money can we set aside?’”

Financially-speaking WMC ended 2015 on a stronger note than it had scarcely more than a year before. In November 2014 then-CEO Marla Sanger and acting CFO Olinda White had approached the Borough Assembly with news the hospital’s reserves had become uncomfortably low. Over the past year WMC has taken steps to bolster its situation, including transferring its billing services to an outside firm in August.

In his recent financial report, Hammett said December had been an “excellent month,” reflecting about a 12-percent increase over November’s revenues. Net accounts receivable decreased by $370,771, and over the month the hospital made $195,551, putting its ending cash balance at $794,284 by the new year. That amount roughly comes to about 29 days worth of operating expenses.

Reserves are down from a recent high, when the hospital began November with more than $1,000,000 on hand. Medicaid reimbursements and a slowdown in collections have contributed to the drop.

After some discussion between board members and staff Massin expressed that they should set aside funds for a capital budget, though he was unsure what amount would be best to regularly add to it.

Now sitting on the board, White pointed out such an account has been used in the past, but that previous boards had a tendency to use capital funds for other projects.

“There used to be quite a bit of money in that account, but it wasn’t enough,” she said.

Rang mentioned he has already begun looking into setting up a capital expense account for next year’s budget, as well as a sheet of items the hospital expects it will need in the future.

For the present, the hospital board gave its approval for leasing the two diagnostic machines, which went on to the Assembly for its approval at its Tuesday night meeting. (see adjoining article) Once approved, Rang said he expected the new machines to be in use at the laboratory by May.

In other board business, Rang reported several former staff members have recently returned to WMC: Cinda Stough as a certified nursing assistant, Audra Netro as a patient care assistant, and registered nurse Sue Nelson as the hospital’s staff development coordinator. Previously working as a contractor, speech-language pathologist Kristen Glaze has formally joined the hospital’s staff for a two-year agreement.

He also informed the board that the hospital will be beefing up its facility security, with plans to add cameras, automatic locks on entry doors and a swipe card system for staff.

“It’s a work in progress, and we’re hoping to have that work completed by February,” he said.

Rang said he was sounding out possibilities for more permanent nurses from among the community, and that two locals may be starting with the hospital soon. In an effort to curb costs related to traveling staff, the hospital has been making an effort to try to bring in resident nurses.

Rang said there was no news yet on WMC’s application to Foraker Group, submitted late last month. The Anchorage-based nonprofit may be able to assist Wrangell through the predevelopment stages of building a new hospital facility.

A vacancy on the hospital board remains unfilled, a seat which expires in 2018. Those interested in sitting on the board should contact Kim Lane at City Hall for more information.


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