By Gina Morton

The Daily Item

LEWISBURG — Fewer admissions and more charity cases are forcing Evangelical Community Hospital to cut the equivalent of 28 full-time positions, officials announced Tuesday.

Reductions may also be seen in hours for some of the nonprofit hospital's 1,300 employees and in executives' compensation. Evangelical may also reduce the area of a new operating room, which is scheduled for construction next spring, said Angela Brouse, hospital spokeswoman.

Cuts are being made hospitalwide, to clinical and nonclinical employees, Brouse said.

"Inpatient admissions aren't as high as they once were," she said. "So areas where numbers are down, we look to cut.

"This is something that you don't like to have to get to this point. As a community hospital, we want to continue to be here years down road and when times are low we hope to build ourself back up, and that's what we're looking to do."

Evangelical has seen a 50 percent increase in charity care since its fiscal year began in July.

"It's a definite increase," Brouse said. "It's a rotating cycle with the economy the way it is. A lot are losing jobs and losing health insurance. The request for charity care has boomed. ... I think every hospital in Pennsylvania, in the country, is experiencing similar charity care."

These are unprecedented economic times, said Michael O'Keefe, Evangelical president.

"We feel the effects of the economy in the Valley, the commonwealth and the nation," he said. "Knowing this does not make these decisions any easier, yet it reinforces the need to act boldly to ensure the hospital's future and continue our commitment to providing excellent patient care."

Evangelical is asking its managers and directors to stay within the spending plan and look for cost-saving measures.

"We're a nonprofit," Brouse said, "and always stress the importance of the budget and the importance of saving money when we can."

The hospital's operating budget is about $138 million. Brouse said the goal is to increase to a 2 percent operating margin by June 30.

Evangelical is among many hospitals in Pennsylvania experiencing economic difficulty, Brouse said.

According the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, 42 percent of hospitals are reporting that the economy has had a moderate to significant effect on the day-to-day financial operation of their facilities, while 75 percent of hospitals and health systems have forecasted economic conditions to be moderate to significant on the financial stability of their facilities.

Economy

affecting Geisinger

Frank J. Trembulak, chief operating officer at Geisinger Medical Center, also said the economy is affecting the Danville facility.

The value of reserves and earnings — such as savings accounts and pension plans — are falling, and the number of charity cases rising, he said.

"There's a slight rise in charity care and an uptick in medical assistance," Trembulak said. "They would tend to be indicators of an individual who has lost benefits or reduced benefits through lost of employment of employers cutting back on health care."

Trembulak did not have a specific number of charity cases, but said it would be available in the hospital's quarterly report at the end of the month.

However, more people are inquiring and applying for charity care, he said.

Additionally, Trembulak said patients are postponing elective or preventative care procedures to avoid the pocket cost of the co-pay or deductible.

Trembulk said there are no layoffs or cuts planned in the foreseeable future at Danville.

"You can never say never," he said, "but the point is that we're looking to change the approach of how we do business and how we do care. We're looking and challenging folks to become more efficient and effective."

Geisinger is recruiting new physicians and continuing new program development, he said.

"The economic downturn is something we will continue to monitor," Trembulak said. "We need to be sensitive because we're not immune. As other health care (facilities) are affected, we need to be sensitive to what is happening to us. We just want to be cautious in doing that."

Sunbury adjusts

staffing daily

Sunbury Community Hospital adjusts its staff daily, depending on patient volume, said Emily Kissinger, spokeswoman.

"While the economy is affecting various businesses and organizations, our role to provide quality health care to patients in need has not changed," she said in a release.

• E-mail comments to gmorton@dailyitem.

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