Houston Healthcare feeling effects of economic downturn

WARNER ROBINS — Although the bottom line remains strong, Houston Healthcare is seeing the effects of a slumping economy, particularly in patient use of emergency rooms and medstops.

April emergency room use was up 15.6 percent at Houston Medical Center in Warner Robins and 3.2 percent at Perry Hospital. Medstop visits jumped 23 percent.

Bad debt and indigent care also rose significantly, pushing the four-month total for the not-for-profit complex to $17.4 million, up almost $6 million from last year. Houston Healthcare receives no tax income from Houston County.

“We are seeing a record number of visits to our emergency rooms,” Houston Healthcare Chief Executive Officer Skip Philips told the Houston Hospitals Inc. board of trustees Tuesday evening. “We’re also seeing a strong shift from elective surgery.” Despite the economic trends, Houston Healthcare’s income exceeded expenditures by $1.8 million during April, giving the system an almost $7 million positive boost during the fiscal year that began Jan. 1.

Perry Hospital will soon be an all private room facility if the state approves the move. “The certificate of need has been forwarded,” Perry Hospital Administrator David Campbell announced, “and we’re awaiting word.”

Philips said recent data show strong retention rates among Houston Healthcare employees.

“Our first-year retention figures are 80 percent,” he told the board, “and our overall retention rate is above 95 percent. Of course the economy has something to do with that. People are glad to have a job. But we also believe the work environment is also the reason.”

Activation of the new Northwest Bed Tower at Houston Medical Center will intensify this weekend.

“We’ll begin our pre-move this Friday,” announced Lynne T. Gordon, Houston Medical Center administrator, “and begin moving patients on Saturday.”

Philips praised the staff for a concerted effort to open the $56 million addition.

“It’s really been a team effort with a lot of work behind the scenes,” he stressed. “A lot of details had to be covered to ensure a smooth transition for patients and staff.”

To contact Gene Rector, call 923-3109, extension 239.