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December 26, 2013

Hospital takes steps to close budget gap

By Jessica Reynolds Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — UHS Chenango Memorial Hospital in Norwich will be undergoing some big changes this year, according to President and CEO Drake Lamen.

Lamen announced in a Monday press release that the hospital’s Walk-In Center will be closed at the end of the month because of state and federal budget cuts.

According to Lamen, effects of the recent Affordable Care Act meant the hospital would be receiving $20 million to $40 million less in Medicare payments over the next ten years. After assessing the budget for 2014 last August, Lamen said, it was apparent that, even after making the usual cutbacks, the hospital would be faced with a $2 million gap between expenses and revenue.

“We knew we wanted to avoid cutting positions, salaries or benefits,” Lamen said. “We thought, ‘how can we maintain core services for patients and a good work environment for employees and close this gap?’”

Lamen said the answer was found in the elimination of the hospital’s Walk-In Center, which, although convenient for patients, was determined to be a duplication of services.

Lamen said two types of cases are treated at the Walk-In Center, but both needs can be met elsewhere in the hospital. Urgent health issues such as breathing problems, allergic reactions or broken bones can be treated in the emergency room, which will remain open 24 hours a day, every day. Less-urgent health issues can be treated by a primary care physician through the UHS Primary Care office.

According to Lamen, patients often think they will have to wait several days or weeks before there are any available appointments at a doctor’s office. He said many patients are most comfortable with the Walk-In Center because they know they will be seen that day.

But Lamen insisted the hospital has been working hard on making same-day appointments available through the Open Access Program, and will continue to do so after the Walk-In Center closes. In the Open Access Program, doctor’s offices reserve or leave open a certain amount of appointments each day so that patients who call and want to be seen right away can be scheduled for an appointment either that day or the next.

“People need to be able to get in to see doctors in a timely manner,” Lamen said. “We recognize that convenience is important.”

In addition to same day appointments being made readily available, Lamen said, primary care offices are expanding their hours to accommodate patients. The hospital will also open its Convenience Clinic in January. This clinic will be open Saturday mornings, and will serve pediatric and adult patients by appointment.

Lamen said the hospital will also be opening a new geriatric practice this year.

According to Lamen, the elimination of the Walk-In Center can save the hospital almost $1 million, and the hospital was able to avoid cutting any positions or employee benefits.

He added that the general feeling from the community about the decision is positive.

“I think people rely on the Walk-In,” he said, “but generally feel that if this can happen — if they can be seen the same day in a doctor’s office instead — that would be great.”