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Rice Memorial Hospital's financial numbers demolish estimates

WILLMAR -- Rice Memorial Hospital's financial health strengthened with another profitable month during March -- the fourth month in a row with a positive margin.

After a period of low in-patient volume and fiscal stagnation, hospital officials are beginning to hint at signs of recovery.

"I really believe we've turned that corner," Bill Fenske, chief financial officer, said Friday at a meeting of the hospital board's finance committee.

The city-owned hospital posted a $617,000 net profit in March -- more than six times what was budgeted.

For the year so far, Rice is sitting at a $1.3 million net gain, one of the best first quarters the hospital has had in at least five years. The gains in financial strength will be important as the hospital contemplates several large initiatives in upcoming months.

One is the acquisition of a new electronic medical records system that will go live next year. The expansion of local cardiology services, and possibly nephrology services as well, also is under discussion.

Hospital officials said the strong financial performance is mostly due to a combination of increased inpatient volume and operating efficiencies.

After lagging in the low 30s for the past couple of years, the inpatient census this year has been averaging close to 40. Inpatient admissions were up 10 percent compared to last year. Surgeries, ER visits, ambulance runs and medical oncology services also have seen an increase.

Rice is seeing positive financial returns as well at its other entities, the Rice Care Center and Rice Home Medical.

Despite the increase in patient numbers, Rice has managed to hold its operating expenses in line with the budget.

It's an indication that the hospital has been successful in creating a more nimble organization, Fenske said.

It's rare anymore that staff are asked to go home early because patient numbers are too low, he said. Instead, core staff levels are now more reflective of the actual census.

"We're able to adjust up and down. We haven't had very many down days," Fenske said. "We used to be chasing our tail and we're now chasing our volume. Our volumes are higher than our core staffing."

Cost-awareness has become ingrained within the organization, he said. "Our staff and our leaders are doing an excellent job of managing our expenses."

Some of the most significant work has come within inventory and supply management and reducing Rice's overhead in these areas, Fenske said. "That's where we are putting a lot of our emphasis -- decreasing supply costs."

Final figures aren't available yet for April, but hospital officials said it will be another positive month for Rice. May also is off to a good start.

Since the beginning of the year, the hospital has improved its cash position. Assets now stand at $119.3 million, an increase of $3.5 million from the end of December 2010.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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