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Rice Hospital breaks even for first quarter

WILLMAR -- Rice Memorial Hospital's finances broke even for the first quarter of 2009, leaving the city-owned hospital with a $19,000 profit as of March 31.

The financial report was presented Friday to the finance committee of the hospital board of directors.

Rice lost $700,000 in January but managed to erase this deficit with a better performance in February and March, said Bill Fenske, chief financial officer.

"I'm very pleased, as well as all of us, that we were able to get over that big hurdle we started the year with," he said.

Most of the gains occurred during March, which saw a $393,500 net profit for the hospital.

Patient revenue also appears to be creeping upward after remaining flat for the past few years.

Inpatient numbers are still down, Fenske said. "It just continues month after month."

But outpatient volume has been relatively strong, especially in the emergency room, laboratory, rehabilitation and hospice, he said.

The books aren't closed yet on April, but it appears the hospital remained on track financially, even though patient volume was off, Fenske said.

"I am optimistic we'll do OK in April," he said.

All the hospital's key financial indicators -- measures such as the operating margin and productivity -- were positive during the month of March.

"We're really hitting our targets well," Fenske said.

The hospital has been recovering after a $2 million loss in 2006. The past two years have been profitable, but just barely. Patient numbers continue to slide, and the worsening economy began to take a toll last fall.

Hospital officials say they're continuing to focus on efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

They're also working harder on strengthening the hospital's cash position. Although the number of days of cash on hand increased between February and March, it was still lower than the year before.

It also has been taking the hospital longer to send out its bills, which leads to delays in getting paid for providing services.

Improvements recently were made to speed up the process and get the bills sent more quickly, Fenske said. "The bills are moving through the system and getting out the door."