By Brenna Wiegand
Silverton Health is acting swiftly to remedy a projected $3 million budget shortfall.
Over the next several months, the independent health system will restructure or close a number of services and eliminate 35 positions from its 900-member workforce.
The culprits: fewer babies, reduced patient volume and less reimbursement from federal and state government and insurance companies – not to mention the health care reform to come.
Silverton Health encompasses Silverton Hospital and a dozen clinics and ancillary care centers in Silverton, Woodburn and Mount Angel.
Silverton Health President Rick Cagen attributes the drop in patient numbers primarily to the economy – and to better patient care.
People come from far and wide to have their babies at the Silverton Hospital Family Birth Center and it has come to make up half of Silverton Health’s business. With the national birthrate plummeting 8 percent since its all-time high in 2007, it is feeling the pinch.
The award-winning birth center features homelike rooms with courtyard views in which the mother stays through the entire birth process – labor, delivery, recovery and postpartum.
The other reason for the drop in patients reflects an upward trend Silverton Health is happy to see.
“We as a health system are managing our patients better and keeping them out of the hospital with services such as the Medical Home Model and better management of those individuals with chronic diseases,” Cagen said.
Change happens, but the driving ambition of Silverton Health remains the same: to provide as complete an array of services as possible.
During his two decades at the helm, Bill Winter, who retired 18 months ago, ignited this vision, bringing in more specialists, facilities and services – during this time the number of providers went from 14 to more than 130. Now, Silverton Health is able to serve people locally 95 percent of the time – something not many small hospitals can boast.
Many smaller hospitals, Cagen said, limit themselves by not taking advantage of the possibilities that keeping up with technological advances affords.
“Ten years ago we couldn’t have a cath lab; we wouldn’t be doing total joint procedures for orthopedics or the sophisticated belly surgery we do,” he said.
A significant portion of Silverton Health’s budget cuts center on Wellspring, a Woodburn care center.
“Wellspring was developed six or seven years ago with a wellness; preventative focus,” Cagen said. “Even though it was and is a great idea, these are services that federal and state government and insurance companies don’t tend to reimburse us for. When you balance need in the community with fiscal responsibility, it’s really hard to maintain a fine dining establishment that serves really healthy food.”
Silverton Health will close Wellspring Spa and turn the Wellspring Grill into a coffee bar and lunch counter and scale down retail services. The Silverton Sleep Lab will close.
Coming health reform will further test a hospital’s mettle – but it needs to happen, Cagen said.
“I’ve been doing this for 37 years and for all 37 years I’ve been concerned that health care is too expensive,” he said. “Irrespective of whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, there’s got to be healthcare reform because we can’t continue to spend 17 or 18 percent of our gross domestic product on healthcare. As a healthcare system, we must find better ways to provide care to people – and to keep them well.”