CARES Act funding helps VMH experience positive bottom line for April, impact of COVID-19 still being felt as hospital adjusts to “new normal” in its operations

by Brianne Eilers

The month of April ended with a positive operating margin of $181,000 for Veterans Memorial Hospital (VMH) in Waukon. However, the operating margin for the 10-month period ending April 30, 2020 is still showing a loss of $514,000 for the hospital, according to numbers shared at the VMH Board of Trustees meeting May 28.

VMH Administrator Mike Myers noted that the decrease in patient revenue of $892,000 for April was due to the COVID-19 restrictions that were put in place, which did not allow for elective surgeries and resulted in a slowdown in outpatient services. There was also a decrease in the areas of obstetrics (OB), swing bed and Emergency Room (ER) visits. There was an increase in acute days and Urgent Care visits.

Total expenses were also down $334,000 for the month and $969,000 year-to-date, with wages/benefits also decreased due to COVID-19 and the fact that many staff members were furloughed April 12. Staff members came back May 10, and VMH is “ramping up” and working to get back to the new normal, according to Myers. VMH also received some funds through the CARES Act-Healthcare Relief Program.

In personnel matters, VMH has hired its own pharmacist, Brittany Snitker, who will begin her duties July 1. VMH also hired a new Director of Nursing, Karen Mathis, who will begin in July as well. Myers noted that they also filled an Information Technology (IT) position, with Jonathan Buhl taking that position.

The VMH Board of Trustees continues the process of hiring a new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to replace Myers, who is retiring this fall. The board has had three phone interviews and Myers noted that there was one more phone interview to conduct before the board would narrow down the candidate pool further. The next step would be a site visit, and a decision would be made after that.

VMH has also dismantled its COVID-19 overflow area. “We never really had to use it,” Myers noted. He further noted that the number of cases and hospitalizations have been declining for VMH. In the main part of the hospital, barriers have been taken down and respiratory and PPE items have been moved to the hospital’s designated “COVID room”.

Myers said that VMH is “starting to look more like it used to.” The hospital does continue to limit the number of visitors and is still requiring visitors and staff to wear masks. “I can’t thank the community enough for its support,” Myers said.

The hospital received multiple donations of food, PPE and other items. “I don’t think words can adequately express what that means,” Myers said.

VMH will continue to monitor and screen visitors and patients as they come into the hospital, in an effort to continue to be vigilant against COVID. Myers noted that there is a possibility that the demonstrations and protests happening across the country, and world, could potentially lead to a spike in the number of COVID cases again. He also wanted to recognize the work of public health officials, the community and government agents who have worked to track and monitor COVID cases.

The VMH Finance Committee met May 18 and went over the hospital’s financial statements and discussed that April ended with a positive bottom line, due to funds received from the CARES Act. VMH has continued to make its monthly payments on its loan with FreedomBank during this time. The Payroll Protection Plan was also discussed. Staff is now working on projects to help the hospital “ramp up” toward a new normal operation status.

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