The monthly meeting of the North Arkansas Regional Medical Center (NARMC) Board of Directors took place on Tuesday, June 27, where updates regarding funding for the hospital were discussed.
President/CEO Sammie Cribbs informed the board that efforts were ongoing to enhance and secure the workforce at NARMC. Cribbs referenced an article published by the Arkansas Hospital Association (AHA) that highlighted the crucial role of hospitals in ensuring the economic vitality of the state and local communities. Hospitals serve as major employers and purchasers of goods and services, while also enabling individuals to be productive contributors to society through the healthcare they provide.
According to the AHA, Arkansas hospitals had an estimated total annual economic impact of $15,239,825,000. They employ 47,300 individuals with a payroll totaling $3,689,896,000. The income earned by hospital employees and spent on various goods and services generates around $6,669,488,000 in economic activity and creates an additional 43,100 jobs in the local economy.
Cribbs reported that NARMC currently has 750 employees with an annual salary expense of $50 million. She emphasized the dedication and significance of the NARMC staff, who work tirelessly to serve the community. In light of recent workforce reductions in the area, the NARMC team is actively identifying individuals who may be interested in joining the healthcare team, in addition to ongoing recruitment efforts with colleges and other workforce agencies.
Regarding funding, Cribbs shared updates from the recent meeting of the Arkansas Senate Public Health committee, where the utilization of $60 million in American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds to support hospitals in the state was discussed. A consultant evaluation has been completed, and next steps are being determined for the allocation of these funds. Financial concerns for hospitals persist, with reports indicating that some hospitals are reducing services or closing service lines. Cribbs expressed gratitude that NARMC is among the 30 hospitals in the state able to offer delivery services, thanks to the expertise and exceptional care provided by their delivery physicians.
Cribbs acknowledged the immense challenges faced by hospitals over the past year. Low reimbursement rates from Medicare, Medicaid, and commercial insurance companies, which fail to cover the actual cost of care, have been a significant contributing factor. Rising expenses, including labor, supplies, and drug costs, have not been matched by proportional increases in reimbursement rates. Discussions are ongoing at both state and federal levels regarding the need to review these rates. While a proposed 2.8% increase for Medicare reimbursement in FY 2024 has been mentioned, Cribbs stressed that this type of increase is inadequate to compensate for inflationary costs. The NARMC team remains committed to improving efficiencies and ensuring access to care for the community while advocating at various levels, including grassroots efforts for the 340B program and its benefits.
CFO Ken Panell presented an update on key financial indicators. In May 2023 compared to May 2022, clinic visits, outpatient visits, ambulance calls, and emergency room visits all showed healthy increases, with clinic visits experiencing the highest growth at 14.8%. Year-to-date numbers indicated a 5% increase in surgeries, a 12.8% increase in clinic visits, a 7.4% increase in ambulance calls, and a 7.4% increase in emergency room visits.
Cribbs noted that observation numbers had risen due to payors not immediately authorizing admissions for certain patients. The number of observation days in May increased by 36.8% compared to May 2022. The percentage of overtime also rose because the hospital relied more on its own staff rather than traveling nurses, resulting in an overtime percentage of 5% for May, reflecting a 9.5% increase from the prior year.
The finance committee recommended the purchase of urology services equipment, including a CST-500 Video Cystoscope with a video processor, Port-a-Scan 3D Bladder Scanner, Flowmaster Uroflow Urometer, and office equipment, at an estimated cost of approximately $45,157.