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Major change nets profit for medical center

January 17, 2004|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

A major change in the Medicare program at Fulton County Medical Center has made the small rural hospital profitable, its chief spokesman said Friday.

President and CEO Robert B. Murray III said the 25-bed hospital ended the 2002-03 fiscal year June 30 with a net income of $1.5 million. That includes $900,000 in free care the hospital provided for patients with no insurance.

The year before was a harbinger of good things to come when the hospital ended up only $768,000 over budget, Murray said.

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That was a far cry from the previous 10 years, in which finances were down. The hospital lost $1.2 million in the last two fiscal years of the decade, Murray said.

The turnaround came after the hospital closed its obstetrics department - a major decision since the hospital was built in 1950 specifically to deliver babies.

About 170 babies are born each year in Fulton County, but the medical center was delivering only about 80, a losing proposition, Murray said.

Up until 1950, when the hospital was built, the county's doctors drove to peoples' homes to deliver babies.

"A couple of doctors and some local businessmen got together and decided to build an obstetrics hospital," Murray said.

It opened as a community-owned hospital. Its corporate members, about 100 local citizens, elect a board of directors each year. The annual corporate dinner meeting was held Monday.

Even more important to the hospital's financial well-being than shutting down the obstetrics department was its designation in 2001 as a critical access hospital, one of six in Pennsylvania. Only rural hospitals are so designated. Medicare pays the full cost of patient care in critical access hospitals.

The brightening financial picture has enabled the hospital to make some major improvements, Murray said.

The MRI unit until this year was available only two days a week. Now, with the acquisition of its own unit, MRIs are available five days a week.

Fulton County Medical Center, with 320 full- and part-time employees, is the county's second largest employer behind JLG Industries.

Murray came on board in 1997. He can look off the back porch of the white frame house near the hospital which serves as its administration building and look northwest at a high flat field about a half-mile away. Covering 20 acres, it's the site of the new Fulton County Medical Center. If things go well, the first dirt for the $22.5 million facility will be turned about a year from now. The new building, in a preliminary sketch, looks a lot like a hand with three extended fingers. The hand represents the main hospital building, with the same 25 beds, plus expanded room for all departments. The fingers will be the nursing home, which will grow from 57 to 97 beds.

The building will stretch over 100,000 square feet, about 40,000 more square feet than the existing hospital. It will have its own helipad. The existing hospital building will be sold.

Murray hopes to float an $18 million bond issue to finance most of the cost of the hospital. The other $4.5 million will come from federal, state and local sources.

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