CARES Act funding helps Veterans Memorial Hospital achieve positive bottom line for May; VMH to operate its own pharmacy beginning July 1

by Brianne Eilers

The month of May ended on a positive financial note for Veterans Memorial Hospital (VMH) in Waukon with a net profit of $51,860. Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act stimulus funding from the federal government impacted that bottom line.

The hospital showed a decrease in net patient revenue, as compared to May 2019, due to a decrease in surgeries and outpatient services as a result of COVID-19. Wages and benefits also were down for the month of May 2020 due to staff being furloughed and lower patient volumes due to COVID-19. Supplies and other expenses were also down for the month. VMH Administrator Mike Myers noted that personnel expenses and visits have both been increasing as the hospital moves toward getting back into the swing of things.

In other matters, the medical staff lounge has been moved to the third floor of the hospital, in order to make extra room for the hospital’s new pharmacy, which will occupy the space of that former medical staff lounge. The hospital pharmacy is scheduled to be up and running by July 1. Myers noted that VMH is one of the few hospitals without its own pharmacy and he noted it would be beneficial for the hospital to have its own. Brittany Snitker was hired as the pharmacist for VMH.

The hallways of the hospital have had the extra equipment occupying space there cleared out. The hospital was keeping supplies and equipment in different places in order to be prepared if there was a spike in Coronavirus hospitalizations.

Myers pointed out that staff and visitors to the hospital are being screened upon arrival and escorted to where they need to go. “That will go on for the foreseeable future as cases have fired back up,” he noted. “Overall, I think Iowa has handled the situation well.”

He also noted that Allamakee County seems to be “calming down” as far as the number of cases that have been cropping up. Myers also praised the Allamakee County Public Health Department for its monitoring, contacting and the contact follow-up involved with COVID cases.

The hospital has also begun to open up outpatient services. “Physical Therapy is back up to pre-COVID levels,” Myers noted.

He also added that they are starting to do elective procedures like colonoscopies and elective surgeries again. They continue to do deliveries at the hospital, and expectant mothers may now have a support person or significant other with them. The hospital is also allowing for one visitor per patient per 24 hours.

The local incident command group that was put together at the onset of COVID in Iowa has been able to decrease the frequency at which it meets, but Myers noted that they are prepared to “ramp it back up” if necessary.

The hospital has hired Jonathan Buhl as its new Information Technology (IT) Director. Karen Mathis will be starting as the Director of Nursing in the first part of July. Mathis will be replacing Machelle Bulman, who has been with the hospital for quite some time.

VMH has also been looking at its leased equipment and as some of those leases expire, they are deciding whether or not to continue to lease it or buy out the lease. The hospital has bought out the lease on its ultrasound machine.

The hospital now handles self-payment “in house.” Myers said they are estimating that the hospital is saving over $100,000 a year by doing that.

Dr. Cindy Calderon, who is an ophthalmologist, and Raquel Ristau, PA-C have both been credentialed. The board continues to interview candidates for the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) position to replace Myers when he retires later this year and should be deciding in the next couple of weeks which candidate to hire.

Myers noted that while some committees and groups are not meeting yet, when they do have things like leadership meetings and board meetings, they are practicing social distancing and getting things back to as normal as possible. He also noted that they are keeping an eye on the areas where COVID is beginning to flare back up.