Novant Health, Brunswick Community Hospital report financial losses

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New Brunswick facility still on track

By Caroline Curran, Reporter

SUPPLY—Brunswick Community Hospital has a clean financial bill of health, hospital spokesperson Amy Myers says.

While the hospital’s parent company, Novant Health, has reported a financial loss this year, Myers said Brunswick’s facility is in a unique situation with the growth Brunswick County has experienced.

The hospital’s operating cash flow has decreased from -$1.3 million in 2007 to -$2.9 million in 2008, but Myers said Novant budgeted for losses for the first five years of its operations in Brunswick County.

“When Novant first affiliated with Brunswick Community Hospital, we expected to experience losses on the financial side for the first five years, primarily for the initial investment,” Myers said.

Novant’s initial investment in Brunswick Community Hospital included facility upgrades, new equipment, education and adding about 150 new positions.

“We knew that it was going to take a huge investment to really bring this hospital up to Novant’s quality standards,” she said.

In its third year of operation as a Novant facility, Myers said employees at Brunswick Community Hospital aren’t in jeopardy of being laid off. Company-wide, Novant has temporarily suspended pay increases for directors and people in higher positions.

Even with the losses, Myers said Brunswick Community Hospital benefits from being part of a large healthcare system.

“Brunswick Community Hospital is in a much better position to weather the economic storm than we would have been three or four years ago for partnering with a larger health system,” Myers said.

“As part of a larger health system, there are so many economies of scale we benefit from,” she said.

Patient services

Charity care at Brunswick Community Hospital has increased from $11.8 million in 2007, or 9.25 percent of gross patient revenue, to $14.7 million in 2008, or 10.19 percent.

“The main thing is that we are seeing an increase in our charity care patients, primarily a result of more uninsured patients,” Myers explained. “People are delaying care, which often means that they need more serious care when they do seek it. Just in the past few months, the length of stay is going up, and people are more sick when they come in to receive care.”

In 2007, Novant changed its charity care policy to include patients who make up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level from its previous mark of 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

A single uninsured person earning up to $31,200 annually can qualify for charity care. An uninsured family of three making less than $52,800 annually can qualify for charity care.

“It does directly tie into there being more uninsured people,” Myers said about the charity care numbers. “The charity care number is going to continue to increase definitely for this year and maybe for a few more years.”

For both the insured and the uninsured, Myers said more people are staying in Brunswick County to receive care, rather than going outside the county.

The hospital’s average daily census increased to 32 patients in 2008 from 30 patients in 2007, which represents a 6.9 percent increase.

Outpatient surgeries are up 24.4 percent over last year, and emergency room visits are up 2 percent.

Births reported at Brunswick Community Hospital have increased 24.9 percent from last year, with 341 babies born at the hospital in 2007, and 426 babies born in 2008.

Future projects

Myers said Novant’s financial losses would not affect future facilities planned for Brunswick County.

In a memo to employees from hospital president Denise Mihal, she says construction of the new Brunswick Novant Medical Center is “on target.”

“We expect construction to be complete by late 2010,” Mihal wrote.

Novant broke ground on the new facility off U.S. 17 in Supply in June.

When complete, the $107 million hospital will have 74 acute-care beds, four observation beds and five operating rooms, Myers said. The hospital’s current facility has 60 acute-care beds and four operating rooms.

The site of the future hospital is on more than100 acres on U.S. 17, about 2.5 miles north of the current hospital. The hospital will encompass 252,604 square feet, with an additional 75,000 square feet of future medical office space.

Novant also recently purchased a 12-acre site on U.S. 17 near Carolina Shores.

“While there are no specific plans for the property at this time, we feel this will be an ideal site for us to extend our outreach in future years,” Mihal wrote. “We purchased the land as an investment and to demonstrate our commitment to provide services to all ends of Brunswick County.”