Charity Care Increases At Saint Mary's

August 24, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Saint Mary's Health Care spent more than its operating margin for its community benefit programs in fiscal 2008, CFO Steve Pirog said last week.

With a margin of $29 million on operations, Saint Mary's spent $32 million on HealthLink programs, or 7.2 percent of nearly $460 million in operating revenue for the fiscal year that ended June 30, Pirog said. That's $10 million more than in 2007, which Pirog attributed to fewer patients with jobs that provide health care coverage. 

"Most of the increase this year was in the charity and in the Medicaid losses," Pirog said. "Charity care really was quite high, with people not having adequate resources. A lot of people don't have health care in the workplace. Those that did may have lost it."

Pirog said Saint Mary's raised prices by an average 5 percent for the current fiscal year. Because most private payers negotiate their own rates and Medicare and Medicaid set their payments, price hikes affect a small percentage of patients, he said. That includes people without insurance, who are expected to cover their own bills.

Saint Mary's also laid off 15 people during the summer, Vice President Micki Benz said. 

In addition to six people connected with the Wege Center's Institute for Mind, Body and Spirit alternative medicine — including the executive director — the lost jobs included a financial analyst, a business office assistant, four other office staff positions, and four people whose jobs were to read medical images on film, a process that is quickly being replaced by digital technology.

Benz said the institute's medical director, Dr. Leonard Wright, also has submitted his resignation and will leave Saint Mary's this fall.

Despite the layoffs, the 10-year-old institute will continue to employ clinicians and offer such therapies as acupuncture, massage, reflexology and traditional Chinese medicine, Benz said.

She said that the business model was unsustainable. "It became pretty clear to us in the last year or two that people don't necessarily want to come to a hospital to get a massage," she said.

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