Obici well positioned for growth; ’04 admissions at record level

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 19, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Obici Hospital is emerging from two years of cash flow shortages and red ink associated with moving into its new facility and is well positioned for growth and improved performance in the years ahead, the hospital’s top official said Thursday.

William C. Giermak, president and CEO of Obici Health System, told the Suffolk Rotary Club that the hospital will finish the current fiscal year, which ends this month, in the black and that expenses associated with its 2002 move into its new facility on Godwin Boulevard are behind it.

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Chief among those has been the demolition of the old hospital building on North Main Street and preparing the 22-acre site for sale.

&uot;We’re lucky enough we’re beyond those problems and along with increased usage things are looking quite positive,&uot; Giermak said.

He noted that in-patient admissions would exceed 8,200 this year, a record level after bottoming out in 2002 at 7,200, a 15 percent increase over the period.

While acknowledging that some of the growth is attributable to Suffolk’s increasing population, he said steps taken over the past decade to improve medical care available to Suffolk residents has also played a large role in the upturn.

Giermak noted that when he arrived at Obici in 1988, many Suffolkians were having to go out of town to receive necessary medical care, and that officials undertook a program to change that which included increasing cardiology, cancer treatment and imaging offerings. As the fruits of those efforts began to be realized, it became obvious by the mid-90s that a new facility was needed to keep pace with the treatment advances being made.

The old hospital, he told Rotarians, was built based on an outdated in-patient model of care and that greater efficiencies could be realized with a new facility based on an out-patient model.

In addition to the record in-patient numbers, emergency room visits will hit about 40,000 this year, double what they were just 10 years ago. Surgery, imaging, diagnostics and therapy have also seen tremendous growth at the new facility.

&uot;We’ve been encouraged by the utilization at the new hospital,&uot; he said. &uot;We’re pretty much on target and I’m quite satisfied with the new building.&uot;

&uot;Over time, we’ve been able to achieve more market share and achieve the goal of allowing more people to get their medical care here.&uot;

The increased usage, along with a recent decision to refinance a portion of the hospital’s $60 million debt associated with the new building, are providing the hospital with brighter financial prospects. Our fiscal health is good and improving.&uot;

He said the hospital is committed to bucking the national trend and remain a community-based hospital, rather than hooking up with a hospital corporation.

To do that, Obici will have to continue to attract and retain top-notch doctors.

Current needs include primary care, family practice, internal medicine, OBGYN, psychiatric and urology physicians as well as radiologists and anesthesiologists.

&uot;Those folks are extremely difficult to find,&uot; he said.

He said the hospital would seek to partner more with doctors to provide services jointly.

&uot;We take a lot of pride that we continue to be an independent, community-based hospital,&uot; he said. &uot;We have to work hard every day to make sure we can maintain our independence.&uot;

During a question and answer session, Giermark responded to concerns expressed over the reduced number of beds at the new hospital, which has 138 beds, compared to more than 160 in the old hospital.

Giermak attributed the decision to reduce the number to the new out-patient model of care, and noted that while there have been times when beds were in short supply, the hospital’s average daily census this year has been 107.

He noted, too, that the hospital was designed for growth and that expansion zones exist for more beds, the emergency room and operating rooms. A new operating room was recently added, bringing the total to seven and there is room for three more.

&uot;We do believe that the 138-bed capacity for us is adequate for the next several years,&uot; he said.