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The exterior of Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar is pictured in this undated photo. The city-owned hospital has so far posted a profit of more than $193,000 this year. Tribune photo by Bill Zimmer

Rice has strong start to year

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news Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- Continued tight management of staffing levels and expenses has helped Rice Memorial Hospital earn a net return for the first half of 2009.

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As of June 30, the city-owned hospital had posted a profit of $193,353.

Preliminary financial results for July show the third quarter of the year also is off to a good start, said Bill Fenske, chief financial officer for Rice. A report on Rice's second-quarter financial performance was reviewed last week by the hospital board's finance committee.

Hospital officials see the relatively better financial stability as a sign that efforts to manage expenses are paying off. In each of the past two years, Rice saw its margin begin to fall during the second quarter, and losses deepened through the summer.

By last August, the financial situation was so urgent that the hospital was forced to eliminate two outpatient programs, lay off staff and cut employee hours.

That doesn't appear to be happening this year, Fenske said. "We're surprisingly finding a busy summer. That doesn't happen often."

Patient admissions were up during July, he said. "Revenue was very positive. We ended up over budget."

With tighter staffing levels, Rice has been able to manage fluctuations in the patient census more effectively and keep a better grip on operating expenses, Fenske said.

Tightening up the billing process also has led to a faster turnaround of payment for services.

As a result, the hospital is seeing its cash position begin to strengthen. Between the end of 2008 and this past June 30, Rice's cash balance has more than doubled, from $3.1 million to $6.9 million.

"We're reinvesting that as fast as we can," Fenske said.

Non-operating income -- primarily Rice's share of the revenue from Willmar Medical Services -- also is helping the bottom line. The joint venture with Affiliated Community Medical Centers splits the cost and profits from providing medical imaging services and cancer care and running the Willmar Surgery Center. A similar stream of revenue comes from Rice's shared ownership of the Lakeland Health Center medical office building.

If it weren't for non-operating income, the Rice organization would have posted a $101,000 loss for the first six months of this year.

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