Admissions drop at area hospitals

Admissions to area hospitals were down in 2009 from the previous year, which is causing some of them to cut back on staffing hours.

To adjust for its decreases, St. Mary’s Hospital employees who do not work directly with patients, such as those in food service, are being furloughed, said Buzz Binder, St. Mary’s Hospital’s vice president of finance. The length of furlough depends upon the job, and employees have the option of using some of their paid vacation days on furlough days.

For the past 10 years, St. Mary’s Hospital admissions have grown. The number dipped by 5 percent last year, and in the past couple months it was down 8 to 10 percent from the previous year, Binder said.

Dips in hospital admissions have not been confined to any one area of treatment, and the reasons for the decreases are harder to define, he said.

“We know the numbers, and we watch them daily,” Binder said. “Since costs are fixed, it really does put a strain on us when we see decreases in volume.”

January and February usually are slower months for hospitals, especially compared with months near the end of a year, when people are more likely to schedule elective surgery after meeting the annual deductible limits in their health insurance plans.

Community Hospital has experienced a 2 percent drop in inpatient admissions in the past couple months, spokeswoman Becky Jessen said. The hospital attributes some of the change to consumers losing health insurance because of job losses or because premiums have become too expensive.

Community Hospital has been able to reduce its average length of stay for patients, which reduces health care costs and increases outpatient numbers, Jessen said.

Family Health West’s new 16-bed hospital has been at capacity for the past few weeks, but admissions had slowed before that, said Dennis Ficklin, the hospital’s chief executive officer. Hours for nurses and managers have been shortened, but the Fruita hospital will soon be reinstating the longer hours.

“We could be busier,” Ficklin said.

A poor economy may be causing people to postpone elective surgery, a new service offered by the hospital. People might not be aware of the hospital’s new services, which include some orthopedic surgery procedures, colonoscopies and general surgery, he said.

“Our ORs (operating rooms) are very well-equipped and comfortable,” Fricklin said.

Montrose Memorial Hospital is seeing about an 8 percent decrease in admissions, said Dave Hample, the hospital’s chief executive officer. No cuts have been made to staffing, he said.

“I’m delighted for that,” Hample said. “We talk about admissions, but it’s just something we’re all having to live with. I think it’s dependent on what the economy does.”

Some administrators wondered whether decreases in patient numbers also could be because more people are being vaccinated against seasonal influenza and the H1N1 virus and fewer are becoming sick in recent months as a result.

According to the Mesa County Health Department, the 2009 flu season broke a record with 101 hospitalizations for flu-related illnesses, peaking in October with 58 cases.

November had the second-highest numbers of hospitalizations at 31. Only 13 hospitalizations were recorded for the 2008 flu season, the Health Department said.


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