By Jeanne Sager
HARRIS December 1, 2006 There’s a new head of the county’s only hospital again.
Longtime Chief Executive Officer Art Brien resigned in September only to be replaced temporarily by Chief Operating Officer Larry Cafasso.
This month, Cafasso was out and Chief Financial Officer Nick Lanza was holding down the fort.
This week, the hospital’s board of trustees put their faith in Ed Wenzke, to fill in as chief operating officer for three months.
Wenzke, a representative of Navigant, a consulting firm hired in September to help the hospital recover from financial ruin, will serve as the senior executive while the search continues for a new chief executive officer.
The hospital’s former board president Richard Baum, who has received heavy criticism in recent weeks (including petitions passed around the county asking for his ouster) over his position as liaison between CRMC and Navigant at a salary of $5,500 per week, has completed his task a month earlier than expected.
Although he was supposed to continue in his board-appointed position until the end of the year, a hospital press release announcing Wenzke’s arrival also proclaimed his return to the volunteer position of board member.
Ironically, after a press release was issued by hospital board members Tuesday morning, a request to the hospital switchboard to be connected to Wenzke’s office was met with confusion.
Hospital employees were last to know they had a new boss.
But Nick Lanza is still speaking for the non-profit.
Reached Wednesday, Lanza said Wenzke’s placement will most definitely be temporary.
Navigant is staying on for phase two of the hospital’s turnaround.
Phase one, Lanza said, was the recent layoff of 72 employees.
The staff reductions were made to stem the tide of money flowing out of CRMC’s coffers.
With the hospital still responsible for covering severance packages and paying employees their accrued vacation time, that outflow won’t end until January.
“Then we’ll start to realize the benefit,” Lanza said. “That’ll even out the inflows and the outflows.
“We’ll be able to concentrate on getting better revenues and not worry about paying our bills,” he said.
The hospital still faces hefty bills Lanza declined to comment on the amount it will be paying Navigant to turn the hospital around, but one medical board member said the number is expected to soon reach seven figures.
In September, Cafasso said the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY) would be footing the bill for Navigant.
With more than $51 million owed to DASNY by 2023, the Dormitory Authority is the hospital’s largest creditor.
But Lanza said DASNY won’t necessarily be paying the bill.
The New York State Health Department and DASNY were both consulted before the Illinois-based Navigant was brought in.
“DASNY essentially credentials firms,” Lanza explains.
CRMC has extended a request to DASNY for a loan to help pay its bills to Navigant a loan DASNY Spokeswoman Claudia Hutton said has yet to be approved.
Lanza said the hospital is also pursing other funding sources including the HEAL NY grants recently approved by Governor George Pataki to create information technology for sharing clinical data among health care providers.
Lanza said the hospital is also looking to improve its efficiency.
Among the changes a referendum expected to be approved today by the Sullivan County Legislature supporting the hospital’s need to purchase pharmaceuticals at government rates.
County Legislative Aide Alexis Eggleton said the rates are 40 percent lower than those the hospital gets from outside contractors, providing a potential savings of as much as $600,000 to $800,000 a year.
This is a standard agreement, Eggleton said.
“We’ve never used it here before, but it has been used other places,” she noted. “The county recognizes the hospital serves a significant portion of the indigent population.”
Lanza said that’s just one portion of phase two of the restructuring.
The chief goal is to create new opportunities to better serve Sullivan residents that will also increase revenues for the hospital.
One option is the Healthmobile, he said.
The vehicle that allows residents to visit with a nurse practitioner and sign up for certain tests at spots around the county was cut back from five days to three days a week before layoffs began, Lanza said.
“The Healthmobile is very expensive to run,” he explained.
On the other hand, Lanza said it provides access to care for patients in an underserved rural community.
If the hospital can up its usage better serving the clients while also doing a better job of offsetting the cost of the Healthmobile itself the hospital on wheels could be part of the solution.
The final stage of restructuring will be a new relationship between the hospital and its physicians, Lanza said.
Whether that will include a new relationship with Crystal Run Healthcare remains to be seen.