Hospital’s finances need transparency

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Rumors have been swirling about the financial health of Kalispell Regional Healthcare for some time, and we are glad the hospital’s spokespeople went on the record last week to address those rumors.

The medical industry as a whole has been in upheaval for several years, thanks to changes in law and the marketplace. Kalispell Regional has tried to position itself wisely for the future by both consolidating the existing medical facilities in the Flathead and building to meet (and create) future demand.

That includes several ambitious projects such as the Children’s Medical Center, a $40 million facility aimed to make Kalispell a regional destination for pediatric care, and the $12.9 million Digestive Health Institute.

In a recent interview with the Daily Inter Lake, CEO Pam Robertson confirmed that the construction projects have “stressed the financial performance of the organization.” She also confirmed that the hospital’s finances had also been adversely affected by Medicaid cuts of about $6.6 million that started in January.

Robertson likened the economic stress on Kalispell Regional to “growing pains,” and that is an apt comparison, but we would also like to remind her that those pains can also be symptoms of a more serious, underlying ailment.

Did the hospital’s board of directors take on too much too soon? Maybe. Is that the explanation for why the hospital wound up under investigation by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for over-compensation for certain physicians? Maybe, although the hospital denies any wrongdoing.

It’s no secret that certain physicians on the hospital’s payroll make close to (or over?) $1 million a year. We aren’t in any position to make decisions about compensation for highly trained, highly qualified doctors, but the inspector general is, so we will have to wait to see how that turns out.

In the meantime, the hospital’s spokesperson confirmed to the Inter Lake that $21.5 million has been set aside by the board in anticipation of a potential settlement regarding the investigation. That, plus a change in the hospital’s methodology for handling bad debt, left the hospital with a $32 million deficit in operating expenses last year — certainly cause for concern.

Meanwhile, the hospital also saw its bond rating downgraded by Standard & Poor’s from an A- to a BBB.

All of this taken together certainly is concerning, but doesn’t have to cause undue worry.

Let’s face it. Kalispell Regional Healthcare is of vital importance to the Flathead Valley, both as a medical resource and as an economic resource. Nearly 4,000 people are emplo

yed by the hospital complex, and for their sake and our own, we wish the best for this nonprofit enterprise.

But going forward, we also hope that Robertson and the board of directors will remember that the local community is a key stakeholder in the future of Kalispell Regional. Information about OUR hospital should be shared with “we the public” readily and regularly.

Such a policy will put an end to dangerous rumors, and can only help to keep the public on the side of this vital community partner.

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