Summary: Bartlett Regional Hospital CEO Chuck Bill talked to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce about the state of the facility and some changes coming to the hospital. Bartlett’s finances were generally positive, Bill said, though the governor’s vetoes could affect that negatively with direct cuts to Medicaid funding and much more serious damage through loss of regular patients as state funded programs get slashed.
Bill also talked about the summer bump in patients from the cruise ship industry, the difficulties posed to patients in outlying communities by the ferry strike, and a new eye surgeon coming to the hospital.
Bill also addressed the ferry shutdown’s effects on patient care. “It’s pretty serious for patients in the outlying communities,” Bill said. They’ve also had some trouble with staff transferring up to the hospital from Seattle being unable to ship their car inexpensively. They’d already lost one staff member to this, Bill said.
“We do see a significant total growth in the organization in the summer, and we attribute that to the cruise industry,” Bill said. All of the industries that support the cruise industry all contribute to that. Bill said that there used to be a 40 percent increase in traffic during the summer; now it’s close to 30 percent.
He said that there’s usually a morning busload of visitors to the ER in the morning, usually for minor things, but sometimes for more serious complaints. He mentioned many cruise passengers may be more elderly, and that a big part of their training at the hospital is teaching employees to treat all guests from all over the world with the respect they deserve.
Bill also commented on the recent transition of Juneau’s sleep-off center to St. Vincent de Paul and Capital City Fire/Rescue. The transition will save the city and hospital money, and it helps put those requiring the services of the sobering center in contact with St. Vincent staff who can offer them further help.
Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, asked, with some loss of preventative dental care from the budget cuts, how much would end up being surgical instead. Bill said that some may end up in oral surgery in hospital, but a lot will end up in dentist’s office as they seek to fix problems that there was no longer funding to treat preventatively.
Bill emphasized that other facets of healthcare will suffer with the loss of preventative healthcare funding.
“If you don’t take care of the mental health, the physical health follows real shortly,” Bill said.
Bill went on to describe how Gov. Mike Dunleavy had been unresponsive and rebuffed all attempts to communicate the needs of Alaska’s medical community since his campaign for office.
The governor’s budget cuts on Medicaid will have some effects for Bartlett.
“We’re going to see a 5 percent cut, which works out to a million and a half cut,” Bill said.
The hospital has set up some cost saving measures to weather this storm.
“What if we lose all the jobs associated with the governor’s vetoes?” Bill asked. The loss of that income could be four times the direct Medicaid cuts, Bill said, which would be devastating. They would have to begin looking hard at programs to trim there.
“We may end up having to make some very difficult decisions,” Bill said.
“We haven’t done eye surgery in Bartlett in six years or so,” Bill. The hospital has recently brought an eye surgeon on board. Patients previously had to fly to Seattle or Anchorage for eye surgery, Bill said.
“The other thing I’m really proud of and want to share is Bartlett really prides itself on its quality,” Bill said.
“We’re really close to the top of the state for the quality of care.”
“We’ve been able to recruit, we’ve been able to restructure, and we’ve been able to reduce much of that cost,” Bill said, about the medical staffing of the hospital. The hospital ran a slight positive budget trend, but they’re still working to break even with the operating budget, Bill said.
“Our total inpatient admissions were 2,414 this year, which is a little down from last year,” Bill said. This is a symptom of changes in industry practices, where some issues which previously would be treated with surgery are now handled through medicine.
“Our surgeries continue to be really solid,” Bill said. There were roughly 2,300 surgeries in the last year, Bill said.
“We’re just crossing our fingers on how the governor chooses to respond,” Bill said, describing the last several months as exciting. CEO of Bartlett Regional Hospital, which is itself owned by the City and Borough of Juneau, likely has a unique perspective for this. Bill took a minute to tell members of the Chamber of Commerce about how the hospital is organized, taking time to point out that the medical staff is seperate and self-governing.
Chuck Bill, CEO of Bartlett Regional Hospital, is addressing the Juneau Chamber of Commerce at its regular lunch today. A number of members of the Juneau city government and the Alaska Legislature are also in attendance, including Rep. Sara Hannan and Rep. Andi Story.
Bill joined the Bartlett Hospital as CEO in 2014, when he came to Juneau from Durango, Colorado. He has several decades in health care management.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 523-2271 or email@example.com.