Rural hospital lays off employees, cuts hours to stay afloat

Published: Apr. 17, 2014 at 3:05 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 17, 2014 at 9:53 AM CDT
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POPLARVILLE, MS (WLOX) - Layoffs. Reduced hours. These are some of the sacrifices a South Mississippi hospital is having to make to keep the doors open. Like many rural hospitals in our state, Pearl River County Hospital and Nursing Home is struggling.

The hospital administrators said when they took over a few short years ago they inherited a financial mess from the previous management. At the end of last year, the hospital filed suit against a dozen defendants including a former administrator claiming fraud and breached contracts.

Current officials said just as they were trying to climb out of that hole, the financial situation went from bad to worse. For months, Pearl River County Hospital and Nursing Home has been tightening its belt to deal with cutbacks in Medicare reimbursements.

"We have contracted out some of our services, privatized some services and in the last several months. We have not filled positions," said Administrator Steve Vaughan.

The changes helped ease the financial burden, but then came another blow. The hospital got word that a payment from Medicaid, scheduled to come in June, wouldn't arrive until December.

"So we had to act rather quickly when we discovered we weren't going to get $2.5 million of expected cash that we got last year," said Vaughn.

To cope, the hospital laid off 17 non-patient care related staff members and cut hours for the remaining employees. Pearl River County Hospital officials said their situation is typical of what Mississippi's rural hospitals are facing.

"All of the rural hospitals throughout the nation are facing challenges and in particularly in Mississippi. The reductions in Medicare and Medicaid, without the expansion of the Medicaid program, to take in those people who are the working poor who have too much income to qualify for the current Medicaid, but too little income to purchase insurance," said Vaughn.

"It's a large number. Several hundred thousand people in Mississippi. But by law and by our mission, rural hospitals are dedicated to taking care of these people. We don't get reimbursed for these people and yet Medicare and Medicaid cuts have been done by the state and the federal government."

Hospital officials say they need a cure and not a temporary band aid. To generate additional revenue, they're expanding outpatient and mental health services to Medicaid and Medicare patients at a time when many doctors are starting to turn them away.

"We really don't have a choice. It's either close or grow," Vaughn said, "So growing in the areas where we can still grow. We're growing in the Medicaid and Medicare population that we serve in our outpatient clinic. It is a great opportunity for us to serve the unmet needs in this part of Mississippi."

Pearl River County Hospital and Nursing Home officials say they've also been able to save money by finding ways to become more efficient and by cross training employees.

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