City hospital at risk

editorials

Our view: Bon Secours needs $5 million to stay afloat while it seeks a new business model for serving the poor

the state should throw it a lifeline

April 10, 2009

Maryland hospitals are sharing the pain as people who have lost jobs and health insurance in the economic downturn find it harder to pay medical bills. Some institutions have had to cut services, lay off employees and reduce subsidies paid to doctors and nurses to keep them on staff.

Bon Secours Hospital, a venerable West Baltimore institution since 1881, has been especially hard hit. Most of the hospital's clients are poor and rely on Medicare and Medicaid to pay for health care. Many patients with chronic illnesses - such as diabetes, kidney disease and asthma - lack health insurance that would allow them to see a primary care physician for regular check-ups and preventive treatment.

As a result, patients often put off seeing a doctor until their symptoms are acute, then rush to the emergency room for treatment. The losses the hospital sustained caring for such patients came to $22 million last year. That was on top of substantial deficits in previous years. Clearly, this situation can't go on indefinitely.

Bon Secours CEO, Dr. Samuel L. Ross, says the hospital needs a new business model if it hopes to continue serving its indigent clients. Not only must it develop new revenue streams and improve operating efficiency but also recruit more permanent medical staffers and reduce its dependence on expensive contract workers.

To boost revenues, the hospital is considering new services it could offer to the state, such as an acute-care psychiatry unit. It also wants to partner with the state department of corrections to provide health care to inmates. And it wants to work with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Medicaid, foundations and other stakeholders to come up with a strategy to make primary health care more widely available so that Bon Secours' doctors and nurses can concentrate on patients who really require hospitalization.

None of this is going to happen overnight. That's why Bon Secours is seeking a one-time, $5 million grant from the state to stay afloat long enough to reorganize its operations and implement a new business model. That's a lot of money even in flush years, and this year isn't one of them. Nevertheless, we urge lawmakers to seriously consider granting this request in the budget now being debated.

If the hospital were forced to close, thousands of residents could be left without community health care and several hundred hospital workers would lose their jobs. No matter how tough times are, that's not an acceptable option.

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