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Hospital chief sees hurdles

November 24, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Chambersburg and Waynesboro hospitals saw increases in both costs and revenues in 2003-04, but the federal deficit and rising health-care costs could some day lead to a two-tiered health-care system, Summit Health President Norman B. Epstein said.

"The government, with the kind of deficits we have, is going to have to cut back on Medicare and Medicaid" payments to hospitals and physicians, Epstein said after delivering his annual report at Chambersburg Hospital Tuesday.

If the government has to cut reimbursements for those programs, Epstein said, "it will create a situation where people have to wait or do without."

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In some states, Epstein said, there are "boutique" practices where people pay up-front fees to guarantee access to a physician. Those who can pay more, he said, get more health-care services.

"The recent shortage of flu vaccine is a classic example of the future rationing in health care," Epstein said in his annual report. The vaccine is limited to those in health care, those at high risk and those "fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time," he said.

"As our health-care system becomes more expensive, technology expands and those who pay for health care seek ways to reduce the burden, we will begin to see significant changes in the form of a very real rationing," said Epstein.

Epstein said Summit Health saw a 70 percent increase in employee health-care insurance premiums and "we were forced to pass along some of the costs to our employees."

Summit Health, which owns both hospitals, is Franklin County's largest employer with 2,400 employees and a payroll of approximately $120 million, Epstein said.

Summit Health revenues were up 10.8 percent from $199.1 to $220.6 million, due to increased patient revenues, according to Chief Financial Officer Patrick O'Donnell. The operating surplus for the nonprofit health-care organization was $7.4 million, down from $9.9 million last year, according to his figures.

Summit Health also doled out $25 million in free medical care, according to the annual report.

Chambersburg Hospital admissions grew 3.5 percent to 12,285, while Waynesboro Hospital saw higher numbers of outpatient visits through its laboratory, emergency room, cardiopulmonary, radiology and physical medicine services, according to Summit Health figures.

Admissions rose by more than 300 over 2002-03 to 15,358 and the number of outpatient visits increased by about 1,400 to 386,497, according to Summit Health figures. Emergency room visits rose by more than 3,800 to 59,641.

There were 1,674 births at the hospitals, compared to 1,523 the previous year, according to the report.

As he has in previous annual reports, Epstein said the "ongoing medical liability crisis plaguing Pennsylvania" is making it more difficult to recruit and retain doctors. Summit Health has been recruiting specialists from Norway to fill specific health-care needs, he said.

Among the services added last year by Summit Health is interventional cardiology, which Epstein said allowed hundreds of people to receive treatment in this area, rather than having to travel to other hospitals.

Construction of additional emergency room and laboratory services at Chambersburg Hospital is under way and scheduled for completion in March, he said.

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