Summit Health past was rosy, future is scary

Summit Health CEO Norman Epstein, left, and Patrick O’Donnell, COO, shared details of the regional healthcare system’s financial status at the annual meeting last week.

Even before the Congressional Supercommittee's failure to reach a debt resolution plan, as formally announced last Wednesday, Summit Health officials were planning for the worst.

At the annual meeting Nov. 22, president and CEO Norman Epstein told board members that how Democrats and Republicans handled the nation's $15 trillion debt would affect healthcare in Franklin County. He actually hoped the committee would not reach a consensus.

"Our field wants them to fail," he said. "It will be a short-term win for healthcare. Otherwise the cuts will be too deep. Waynesboro Hospital will have to disappear or cut services if it passes."

The first effect of no solution would be an automatic two percent reduction in physician reimbursement fees for Medicare patients in 2013, he said. That was scary enough, but he added that some experts predicted a 20 percent drop, which was "frightful."

The more rural Waynesboro Hospital would be affected more than Chambersburg, since special provisions in Medicare law hurt those facilities harder.

"November 23 is a game-changer," said Epstein. "Summit Health has reacted well so far. We will make the hard and potentially unpopular decisions."

Pat O'Donnell, chief operating- and chief financial officer, continued, "Changes have to be made in a non-political manner."

The future could include a revamping of how care was delivered or services were offered. Both men acknowledged the entitlements of Medicare and Medicaid were no longer affordable. Medicare accounted for 60 percent of revenue at Chambersburg Hospital, and 63 percent in Waynesboro. The industry is represented in Washington D.C. by lobbyists from the State Hospital Association of Pennsylvania and the American Hospital Association, though local personnel contact local politicians on some issues.

Other business

Outside of the bleak forecast, Epstein reported that 2011 was a successful fiscal year for Summit Health. Revenue was $409,195,000 and expenses were $373,938,000, with salaries and wages at 45 percent. The Chambersburg Hospital expansion was well underway, scheduled to be complete next December. It will house 171 private patient rooms and a new cardiac catheterization suite. The Pathways to Nursing Careers program was developing their workforce. The Antrim Walk-in Care facility was celebrating its one year anniversary in Greencastle. During the year it treated 7,200 patients and accepted all patients, regardless of type of insurance coverage.