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Challenges, changes topics at annual hospital meeting

By Sue Sitter - | Mar 6, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT Heart of America Medical Center CEO Erik Christenson gives a presentation to hospital association and board members Feb. 24 at the Rugby Eagles.

Members of the Good Samaritan Hospital Association and board discussed challenges posed by a global pandemic and changing health care at their annual meeting held the evening of Feb. 25 at the Rugby Eagles.

Heart of America Medical Center CEO Eric Christenson thanked the GSHA board “for all the work they’ve done” to meet challenges posed by a global pandemic. Christenson also outlined ways the health care facility would adapt to changing attitudes about medicine.

“They’ve made a lot of changes,” Christenson said of hospital administration. “There are a lot of new services that we’re trying to provide in the facility.”

“The board is very willing to work with me,” Christenson added. “We’ve started committee meetings again and will report on that. I really appreciate the board and thank them for their service this year.”

Christenson said a concept called preventative health care would be a new focus for the hospital in years to come. In the future, health care providers would be paid for “keeping you out of the hospital,” he explained. “It’s called value-added service.”

“We’re just beginning to see what that looks like,” Christenson noted. “We’re going to have to start changing our thinking as healthcare providers. How do we keep you healthy and not use the services we’re providing?”

“I know that seems convoluted, but that is actually where healthcare is going,” he added.

Christenson also described the challenges he met when he stepped into his job in the midst of a global pandemic.

“We had a lot to deal with from the get-go,” he said, recalling his first day as CEO on April 13, 2020.

Christenson described work done to revamp areas needing change in administration.

“The first was HR,” he said of the human resources department. “We have an excellent HR team with Sarah Radomski at the head of it. We’re really seeing some positive things in HR and a structured HR department within the organization.”

Christenson said HAMC employs 330 Rugby area residents, the largest employer in the community “by far.”

Christenson also noted the facility had a new compliance officer, Meredith Childress, who brings experience as an attorney to her position.

Other changes included streamlining the hospital’s billing and collections process. Christenson praised Chief Financial Officer Melissa Shepard for making the improvements.

Shepard also reported the facility’s financial situation “shows expenses outpacing revenues.”

“We’re dependent on revenue or donations from grants from the community,” she added. “Outpatient is 50 percent Medicare and we are 13 percent Medicaid.”

Shepard showed trends for hospital assets from 2012. “As we keep going, you see we’re trending down,” Shepard noted. “As our facilities age and our assets are declining, we haven’t had a lot of revenue to continue to buy the assets we need, so we’ve seen a decline.”

Shepard said the hospital had seen a profit in 2018.

“We’ve been in a positive operating margin for two months,” Shepard said of 2021. Shepard noted after a dip in prior months, the profit margin bounced back to positive territory. “We’re teetering on the edge right there,” she added.

Shepard told the board and association her department had improved billing and collection efficiency, eliminating duplications where financial operations are both outsourced and handled by HAMC staff. CARES Act funds also helped the hospital’s finances, Shepard noted.

Christenson told the group the hospital’s culture would turn to a focus on serving the community.

Services the facility offers include a full time surgeon, outpatient surgery services and rehab services including physical and occupational therapy. “We have xray, radiology and MRI,” Christenson noted. “We’re looking to expand to mental health services. We’re seeking a mental health professional.”

Christenson also described goals for the hospital’s long-term care services.

“I want to move that care center to be a top-notch, five-star care center,” he said, noting long-term care centers are regulated “second only to nuclear power plants.”

Christenson said the hospital would put more focus on complying with government health care regulations “to be ahead of the curve.”

The COVID pandemic had a significant impact on the hospital’s long-term care center, acute care unit and workers, Christenson said.

“Our team really stepped up to this challenge,” Christenson said, noting staff cared for a total of 31 COVID-positive patients in the care center “and we had 33 positives in our basic care unit.”

“Our front-line staff need to be commended,” he noted. “We had nurses from other facilities coming in.” Christenson said some regular staff stayed on duty for 24 hours a day.

The board and association also heard about the need for remodeling work and an eventual move to a new facility.

Christenson said the most recent hospital updates were done on the facility’s acute care wing in 1992. Most other work done on the hospital dates to 1973

Hospital town hall meetings and ways to reach out to the community served by the hospital were also priorities for the organization. Christenson said a new community health needs assessment would be given to people in areas served by HAMC in 2021.

Changing the hospital board was the final improvement proposed to the hospital association.

The board size and composition, described in the hospital’s bylaws and articles of incorporation, would change from its current 10-15 elected members to a minimum of seven to a maximum of 11 members. The proposed change also adds two appointed board members with specialized backgrounds in law, insurance or finance.

“It also centralizes a little more of the board in Rugby,” Christenson said. “The reason for doing that is that’s the center of where a lot of our patient base is. It’s also kind of an economic hub for the association,” he added. “We’re trying to make sure that we bring in a representation of where the board is today as opposed to where it may have been in the 1980s, when these (bylaws) were put into place.”

Under the proposal, the board would reduce its size by not renewing the expired terms of members from certain areas and combining outlying communities for representation by fewer board members.

The hospital association approved the recommended board changes outlined in the hospital’s articles of confederation with a 41-4 vote by paper ballot. Board members also voted on the proposal. Their 6-4 vote to approve the changes failed to meet the 2/3 majority needed to pass.

After the meeting, Childress said research would be done to determine whether the results of the votes would affect the board’s size in the coming year.

In other business, the board elected Kim Bott to represent Dunseith, Jason Lee to represent Maddock and Janelle Engstrom to represent Leeds.

The board thanked Christenson for work done in his ten months as the hospital’s CEO with a round of applause.

On Engstrom’s suggestion, the board and association members gave the health care workers employed by Heart of America Medical Center, Johnson Clinics and Haaland Estates a standing ovation.

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