Summit Health survives recession, plans for future

PAT FRIDGEN
NORMAN EPSTEIN

Summit Health weathered the recession, health care reform will hit hospitals financially and don't shake hands. Those were the messages President and CEO Norman Epstein shared with the Greencastle-Antrim Chamber of Commerce Dec. 9 at a breakfast meeting.

He prefaced his remarks by informing the assembly that in the health care settings under his jurisdiction, it was totally acceptable for people to bump elbows in greeting, to prevent spreading germs.

Later Epstein said emergency room visits in the Chambersburg and Waynesboro hospitals were up because of the swine flu, which peaked in October. He thought the H1N1 virus had almost disappeared in Franklin County. "But let's not get too happy about it and start shaking hands," he added.

Epstein said he and his staff anticipated the recession months in advance and set out to reduce annual expenses and spending on equipment. They eliminated 140 fulltime equivalent positions, most not visible to the public. The system has seen delays in payment, an increase in retirement expenses, and the inpatient count down. That was attributed to people postponing health care for fear of losing their jobs if they missed work.

As a result of actions taken, Summit Health has "an incredible 212 days of cash on hand" and is now gearing up for health care reform, which Epstein predicted would be passed by the federal government and implemented in 2013. He saw one positive to reform, the likelihood that more people would have medical insurance and access to care. Beyond that, he expected hospitals to become "an easy hit" for funding, but they could not drop Medicare, which is used by 75 percent of patients. Epstein did not believe hospitals or home health care would get additional money from reform, and the cost of care would go up. Who would receive that extra money was a mystery.

Whatever the structure, he said, "We want safe and quality care for Franklin County."

Plans have been reactivated to bring single-patient rooms to both hospitals, dedicated to the most critically ill patients.

Summit Health remains a leading business in the county, with 3,110 employees. According to its annual report, revenues in fiscal year 2009 were $371.7 million, and expenses $335.3 million. Patient services provided 99.4 percent of income. Salaries, wages and benefits accounted for 62.1 percent of expenses.

Chambersburg Hospital was named to the top 5 percent nationally for cardiology services this year and Waynesboro Hospital was named America's best place to work last year. Both have received other national and state honors. Summit Health contributed $40 million in 2009 for community benefits in the form of screenings, education, research, charity care and reinvesting in technology.

The main healthcare provider in Franklin County operates two hospitals, Summit Health Center, Summit Keystone Pavilion, Greencastle Health Services, Mercersburg Health Center, Mont Alto Health Center, Shady Grove Medical Center, Shippensburg Health Services and Waynesboro Health Center.