Bartlett Regional Hospital, seen here on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020, has proposed a four percent price increase for 2022. The price increase is part of the hospital's efforts to reset after a challenging year. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)

Bartlett Hospital considers 4% price increase

Despite the increase, fees remain low compared to other hospitals.

A trip to Bartlett Regional Hospital will cost 4% more as of July 1.

Kevin Benson, Bartlett’s chief financial officer, shared the price increase with the city’s finance committee as part of the hospital’s proposed fiscal year 2022 budget. Because the hospital is a component unit of the City and Borough of Juneau, hospital officials share a proposed budget as CBJ Assembly members weigh overall spending priorities for the coming year.

“Our budget is driven by our mission, which is to provide quality patient-centered care sustainably. That means we must remain financially viable,” Benson told the Empire in a phone interview on Thursday, echoing the sentiments shared by Barlett’s chief executive officer Rose Lawhorne during the Wednesday evening meeting.

Overall, the proposed $131 million budget assumes $127 million in revenue. Benson said that cash from the hospital’s reserve would cover the $3.5 million shortfall unless federal money becomes available to close the gap.

The finance committee approved Barlett’s proposed budget, moving it to the final phase of approval by the city assembly in late May. The public can comment on the budget at a public hearing during a meeting on April 21 at 5:30 p.m.

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About the price increase

The price increase is part of the hospital’s effort to reset after a year in which the COVID-19 pandemic reduced patient volumes, led to a hiatus on outpatient procedures and prevented large cruise ships from bringing passengers and crew in need of care to the facility.

During the same timeframe, the hospital incurred expenses related to preparing for pandemic-related surges, purchased new equipment and took on additional staff members.

“During COVID, we did whatever needed to be done. We really turned the operation upside down. We are now looking at operations post-COVID and really getting back to what we do best in a less panicky way,” Benson said.

Benson said the price increase will apply across the board for hospital services but exempt some sensitive areas, such as the Rainforest Recovery Center. Physician fees are not affected, as physicians issue separate bills.

He said the cost increase would be invisible to most patients as the fee increase will not affect the bill’s self-pay portion for patients with Medicaid, Medicare or commercial medical insurance.

“The patient responsibility won’t change,” he said.

Benson said that a study reviewing prices at about a dozen hospitals in Alaska and Washington showed that Bartlett’s fee structure was the lowest of the group.

“Barlett is at the bottom of fees of those hospitals. Even with the increase, we will still be at the bottom of the list,” Benson said.

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Planning for the future

Despite a challenging year, the hospital is looking to the future with $5.5 million set aside for capital improvements.

The proposed budget includes purchasing two new CT machines and investing $1.5 million from the 2022 budget in a behavioral health facility that consists of two levels of outpatient services and an eight-bed crisis stabilization center. The total cost of the new facility is projected to be $10.5 million.

The CT machines will cost $1.8 million, which represents a bulk discount for purchasing two machines.

“Patients will notice the new scan is quicker, so time in the tube is shorter,” Benson said, noting that it will produce more images with better clarity than one of the current machines, which will reach the end of its useful life in December. He said that once a machine reaches that point, it’s impossible to purchase parts, and servicing the machine becomes more difficult.

Benson expects the first new CT machine to arrive in December or January and the second to come next March of April.

The proposed budget also includes $4 million to address deferred maintenance. The staff is conducting a facility study to identify the most critical maintenance projects.

•Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or (907)308-4891.

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