Factors add up to less for hospitals
Forum Health and HMHP have fewer employees now than at the end of 2005.
By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
WARREN -- A shrinking Mahoning Valley population, which is also among the oldest, sickest and poorest in Ohio, is negatively affecting the financial bottom lines of the area's two major health-care systems, say the leaders of the local hospitals.
Forum Health, whose major acute-care hospitals are Northside Medical Center in Youngstown and Trumbull Memorial Hospital here, is about a year into a financial turnaround effort. It still has about 5,000 employees, but that is some 400 fewer than at the end of 2005, said Dr. Keith Ghezzi, interim president and chief executive officer.
Humility of Mary Health Partners is also feeling the pinch, said its president and CEO, Robert Shroder. HMHP's hospitals are St. Elizabeth Health Center in Youngstown and St. Joseph Health Center in Warren. Also, it is building a hospital in Boardman that is due to accept its first patient Aug. 1, 2007.
HMHP, which also employs about 5,000 people, is down the equivalent of about 250 full-time positions now compared to this time last year, Shroder said. HMHP is struggling with its profit margin for the first time since 1998, he added.
Shroder and Dr. Ghezzi talked Friday at St. Joseph Health Center to members of the 2006 Class of Leadership Mahoning Valley about their respective health-care systems and trends and challenges in the health-care industry in general.
Leadership Mahoning Valley's mission statement says its goal is to produce well-informed, motivated leaders who are willing and capable of working together to strengthen the community.
In addition to an aging, dwindling population and poor economy here, Shroder said the health-care industry in general is affected by rising consumerism, or people shopping around for their health care; new technology, which is "not cheap"; an explosion of pharmaceuticals, which can translate to fewer profitable in-hospital procedures; and for-profit investors, who syphon the more profitable aspects of health care from the hospitals and leave the less-lucrative, long-term care and charity care with the hospitals.
No population growth not only adversely affects revenues but also creates a very competitive environment for Forum Health and HMHP, Dr. Ghezzi said.
If Forum wants to get more patients, it has to get them from HMHP, and visa versa, he said.
In that same vein, Dr. Ghezzi thinks that when HMHP's new hospital in Boardman opens it will take some 50 patients from Forum's daily census.
The discussion of stagnant population growth, and predictions that the Mahoning Valley's major cities -- Youngstown and Warren -- will continue to lose population, gave rise to a question by one of the LMV participants.
Can both hospital systems survive with the declining population and patient base?
Dr. Ghezzi said he thinks competition is good because it helps keep prices down. But, he said, it has to be measured, and some collaboration between the two systems might be desirable.
Shroder, on the other hand, said he thinks it is possible to have one health-care system in the Valley and still have enough competition from for-profit health-care businesses and from the Cleveland and Pittsburgh hospitals to keep prices in line.
Where the two men seemed to agree is in what to do about the national health-care system and its millions of uninsured.
The "fix" is up to government, Shroder said.
There are too many people uninsured, which means the people who have insurance must pay the bill. The cost of that leads to employers providing less health care.
"That cycle has to be broken. I contend that if we could find a way to get everyone insured, we would overall save money on health care in the United States," Shroder said.
"In this country, health is a fundamental right ... food is not. You can't go into Giant Eagle and fill your grocery cart and leave without paying. But, you can go into a nonprofit hospital and it must take care of you," Dr. Ghezzi said.
"It's an unfunded mandate, and until every citizen has basic health-care benefits for prevention, we will continue to have a broken system," he added.