In 2013, Wyoming County residents pulled together and raised $5 million dollars toward an $18 million renovation and construction project at Wyoming County Community Hospital (WCCH).
Although the project made significant upgrades to the facility; in recent years, Wyoming County Community Health System (WCCHS) has been affected by the increased changes in healthcare reimbursement and healthcare needs of the population. Consequently, WCCHS has incurred financial losses and has had to rely on increasing support from county residents.
Earlier this year, Douglas Berwanger applied for a grant to help eliminate all but a small portion of the hospital’s debt.
“I became aware of a $400 million pot of federal money in New York State for hospitals which have suffered from large debt due to underserved and underpopulated reasons,” said Berwanger, chairman of the Wyoming County Board of Supervisors. “The funding would be distributed by the Commissioner of Public Health for State.”
Following news about the availability of the money and after speaking with officials at WCCH, Berwanger had an opportunity to speak with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, New York Director of Economic Development Rich Toby, and Sen. Patrick Gallivan (R-C-I Elma). Via a writing campaign, the chairman, fellow board members, members of the Farm Bureau, as well as others, sent letters with the request for a portion of the available grant money.
“We thought we would apply for $20 of the $400 million,” Berwanger said. “We are only one of three county hospitals in the state and there are fewer and fewer nursing homes in the state as well.”
WCCH provides acute inpatient, emergency room, ambulatory surgery, maternity, clinic, in-patient behavioral health, and skilled nursing services. The facility, located in Warsaw, is the only hospital in the county. The nearest hospitals are 22 miles to the north, 32 miles to the southeast, and 39 miles to the southwest. Not only does the hospital serve the approximate 44,000 people of Wyoming County, it also serves parts of southern Genesee, northwestern Livingston, and northern Allegany and Cattaraugus counties. Additionally, WCCH has the only in-patient behavioral health facility within a 50-plus mile radius and the hospital to the southwest does not provide maternity services. Furthermore, WCCHS is one of only two contracted hospital service providers to the New York State Department of Corrections with a locked unit. The unit provides services to five prisons in Western New York. Finally, WCCHS employs 497 full-time equivalent employees – 75 percent are from Wyoming County.
The total of WCCHS’s debt is approximately $22 million – $17 million for the renovation/construction project, $1.73 million for the energy efficiency transformation loan, $1.34 million for the purchase and renovation of the Physician Office building, and $1.8 million for equipment BAN’s. The $20 million grant would eliminate just about all of the facility’s debt.
“The profit of the hospital is so low that the county is subsidizing it,” Berwanger said. “Once the debt is cleared, it would lower the tax levy.
“WCCHS has been working with Strong in Rochester, and there are new services being offered: for example, heart and cardiac services. They are taking over the management of the Pediatric Unit agreement for three years (until 2018), and they are working on training staff in the finance department to keep it afloat.”
While the hospital is in no danger of closing, it does need more revenue to sustain services.
The 138-bed nursing facility is attached to the hospital and needs to be fully utilized to remain profitable, reports Berwanger. (Currently, the nursing home is full.) Thirty-six of those beds are for the acute care section of the hospital.
According to Berwanger, the board feels strongly about the future of WCCHS for a few reasons: there is no other healthcare facility in the area – the closest is Batavia; it's a place to offer health care services for diagnostic services; and 75 percent of employees at the hospital are Wyoming County residents – the loss of those jobs would impact the community.
“The fact is, a number of people and organizations in the county support the hospital to remain open,” Berwanger said. “The community donated $5 million and that sent the board the message that we have to keep the hospital in operation.”
The original hospital was in Zeches storage and apartment area. WCCH, as it stands now, was built in 1954. In 2013 the construction and renovation project began and throughout 2014, specialists were recruited to the staff in areas including orthopedic surgeons – Buffalo Orthopedic’s and UBMD, urologists – Western New York Urology, a new surgeon, and additional physicians in areas of cardiology; ear, nose and throat surgery; and neurosurgery – University of Rochester (UR) Medicine.
Plans for 2015 include an expansion of the relationship with UR Medicine including a consulting agreement which is allowing UR Medicine to work with the hospital and provide their administrative expertise immediately. Additionally, a study will be conducted over the next several months as to the feasibility of keeping the skilled nursing facility as a county-owned facility.
The goal is to put the hospital on solid financial footing, Berwanger reports; to maintain a strong health care presence in Wyoming County for many years.