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Coulee Medical Center working on its future


Coulee Medical Center is “planting a seed,” actually a lot of seeds, with an intent to grow into a better facility far less dependent on outsourcing its work.

From billing to building medical staff, CMC is getting a handle on its future, staff reports last week indicated to hospital district commissioners.

Three new health care providers are scheduled to begin practice in August, and CEO Debbie Bigelow said there may be a fourth ready to start, too, relieving the load doctors and mid-level providers have carried for years.

The hospital has brought staff back on board for billing, resulting in payment rates averaging 49 days that would be “the envy of any hospital,” Bigelow said.

And the future supply of doctors is looking more stable due to the recruiting techniques employed by the staff and the patience of the administration, and patients, with Dr. Andrew Castrodale’s teaching schedule.

“I like teaching, but this is long-range recruiting,” Castrodale explained. With University of Washington students taking parts of their education at CMC for months-long chunks of time over a period of years, they become longterm candidates for employment at CMC.

“You’re talking a seven- to eight-year lead up,” he said.

Castrodale listed seven such students, all interested in working at the facility, an unusual thing for a rural hospital.

“You’re going to do one of two things at a rural hospital,” Castrodale said. “You’re going to teach and you’re going to grow. … Or you’re going to strip down and be an [emergency room] and that’s about it.”

The hospital is seeing some hopeful signs toward financial growth as well, already having hit some goals budgeted for later in the year when more medical staff is scheduled to joining the team, Bigelow said.

CMC has also severed its relationship with a Spokane-based orthopedic surgery practice it set up under a previous administration, and will not renew a contract with the Caribou Trail surgery group, commissioners decided Friday. Those relationships did not result in the hoped-for surgeries at CMC, a lifeblood for a hospital.

And extra payments imposed for government insurers Medicare and Medicaid last year will now be coming back, CMC having won its arguments with the state. Bigelow said the hospital expects about $2 million dollars in refunds in the next three to four months.

That will offer welcome relief. The hospital showed a gain of about $65,000 in March, but a loss of $70,000 in April, for a year-to-date loss of $95,000.

That will help while new providers gain a foot-hold in their practices and with some planned equipment purchases later this year.

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