SCBHS moves toward affiliation decision

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By Reed Anfinson
Swift County Monitor-News

Swift County-Benson Health Services will pursue possible affiliation with CentraCare Health of St. Cloud, Carris Health of Willmar, or both with a final decision set for the May 23 governing board meeting. Carris also has a relationship with CentraCare.

If it follows through with affiliation, it means the end of SCBHS operating as an independent medical facility with a substantially reduced role for its governing board. The board now has three members appointed by the City of Benson, six Swift County Board of Commissioners, and one by the medical staff.

It made the decision Monday night based on the recommendation of a committee made up of staff and board members that looked into the pros and cons of remaining independent, remaining independent with substantial investment from the county and city, or affiliating with a regional healthcare organization.

As it weighed the decision, the group took an in-depth look at five critical questions. They were:
- Which of the three choices would best ensure the quality of the services it offers area residents.
- Which choice would best reflect its care and consideration for the people who work at SCBHS? Would recruiting the staff, physicians, and medical providers depend on that level of care? Could it keep people it already has on staff? Could it ensure that the employees have the compensation and the benefits that they need?
- The third area was the services that SCBHS offers to the community. How can it best offer the services? What are the services SCBHS should be offering in the community now and in the future?
- The fourth area was facilities and IT support. Which of the three models would best keep SCBHS current on technology and make sure it meets the challenges that come in a rapidly changing medical environment?
- The fifth area wraps everything up into a financial review. SCBHS is using accounting firm Clifton-Larson-Allen for the financial review of the impact of each option. “They have a tool that has been tried and true for hospitals in our kind of situation to analyze our financial performance and then also look at what we can expect going forward,” CEO Mary Ellen Wells said.

The CLA study looks at the financial impact of major changes in Medicare reimbursement or the elimination of critical access hospital status for SCBHS. It also looks at positive scenarios like what adding a couple medical providers to the staff would do for it financially.

“The financial analysis will also determine the ability of the organization, the city and the county to make the necessary capital investments for new technology, facilities and equipment that will maintain a strong health care campus for the community,” Wells told the county board of commissioners last week.

The purpose for study on affiliation or independence was to figure out how to best establish a strong future for SCBHS, Wells said. “That was the premise of the study.”

The SCBHS group researching each of the three options eliminated the choice of simply remaining independent and trying to make it on its own. There are too many capital costs ahead, including a $1.6 million cost for a new medical records program, that can’t be absorbed by a stand-alone facility.

A five-year financial study of the implications affiliating, or remaining independent with financial input from the county and city showed starkly different outcomes to the governing board Monday night.

The financial projections show losses in nearly every year going out to 2024 if the hospital remained independent while receiving financial assistance from the city and county. If the hospital affiliated with an entity like CentraCare, the financial projections showed a dip in 2020 as the new medical records program was purchased, but after that every year out to 2024 showed a healthy profit.

In analysis of the remaining two options for the future, all five of its critical questions were overwhelmingly answered by affiliating rather than independence with county and city support....


County board input

The governing board wants to have a pretty public discussion about what are the best interests of the county, the city, and the patients and the community that it serves, Wells said.

She also is working to set a joint meeting between the city council, county board and representatives of the SCBHS governing board in April to discuss options and their implications.

It is quite a task, Chair Gary Hendrickx, District 1-Appleton, said of the work the SCBHS governing board is undertaking.

“I sit here, and I am from Appleton, my thought continually is to remain independent. But when you put those other issues, valid issues and concerns, there is more to it than that. You still have to recruit quality individuals.

“I think we are supportive and have been as a board over the years. I wish you well,” he said.

Wells said the SCBHS governing board would like to schedule a joint meeting with the city and the county in the next month as the details come together....


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