$1.9 billion budget in hand, Jackson Health System starts on long road back
By Ashley D. Torres
As Jackson Health System prepares for fiscal 2011, insiders say the institution has made improvements but still has a long way to go.
The Public Health Trust, Jackson's independent governing body, approved Monday a $1.9 billion budget for 2011, which starts Oct. 1. The budget is to maintain Jackson's level of service inclusive of its nursing homes, charity care, primary care centers, contributions to correction health and measures to remain an innovative institution, said John H. Copeland III, the trust's board of trustees' chairperson.
"This budget is not an answer to the challenges that this system faces," Mr. Copeland said. "This is a survivability budget that gets us to maintain service over the next 12 months."
Along with the budget, Jackson has proposed several initiatives across departments to help cut costs and increase revenue.
Nonetheless, Eneida Roldan, Jackson's president and CEO, said the hospital has made progress.
Over the past year, Jackson has been successful in reducing employee numbers from 12,700 full-time equivalents to 11,400, Dr. Roldan said. Employees have also taken a 5% pay cut and the hospital is now in the 25th percentile in terms of salaries. In addition, management has been restructured from 24 executives to 16.
"Nonetheless," Dr. Roldan said, "that does not mean we are out of the woods."
The health system, which lost $244 million last year, is projecting a $70 million loss for fiscal year 2010.
Over the next year, the institution will focus on operational efficiency, including developing talent that can multi-task and reducing costly medical errors.
In addition, Jackson is "embarking on the daunting task of addressing a capital budget gap and figuring out what are the implications of changes in healthcare that we are going to face," Mr. Copeland said, "and how to craft a plan."
Part of the struggles for Jackson is that it is a public safety net for the uninsured.
"What other industry that number one has a customer come in that doesn't know the pricing," Dr. Roldan said, "and gets charged the full charge and yet doesn't pay the full charge?"
Claims recovery is an area where Jackson has seen improvements, Dr. Roldan said. One of the initiatives proposed for the coming year is more efficient claims recovery, which is estimated to save about $38.4 million.
Even so, Dr. Roldan said that as a result of the economy many people aren't paying hospitals or doctors because their funds have to go towards paying rent.
"These are realities that are very, very challenging," she said, "in this real economic environment."
Despite their financial woes, Jackson remains the county's only adult and pediatric Level I Trauma Center and one of the country's top transplant locations.
"Jackson Health System is here," Mr. Copeland said, "and is a major contribution to healthcare in the county."
And although Jackson is making fiscal improvements, it must continue to provide quality service to the insured and uninsured, remain competitive, cut costs and be "nimble and flexible" in a changing economic environment.
"It's a tsunami," Dr. Roldan said. "It's a perfect storm."