Wilbarger General Hospital Works to Keep Doors Open

Another Texoma hospital is struggling to get out of debt.

Officials at Wilbarger General said it has been a growing problem for the past few years.  The last time the hospital made a profit was in 2011.  Since then, they have constantly been in the red.

"The hospitals losses during that time have varied anywhere from $2.7-million at their worst, to last year where we lost about $700,000," Claudia Eisenmann, CEO at Wilbarger General said.

The biggest loss was in 2013, but they felt they made a huge jump the following year where they improved their losses by $2-million.

"It's not an option," she said, "We cannot lose our hospital."

Despite the improvement, officials are still working hard to improve their financial situation to the point where they are making a profit again.  They feel this is crucial for the hospital since they are predicting to end up in the red again.  In addition, they are anticipating the situation to be worse from the previous year.

"It's not a secret that budget cuts in health care have impacted hospital," Eisenmann said.

Another challenge officials said they are dealing with is people moving from rural communities, like Vernon, to urban areas, such as Dallas.  In addition, the aging population and the growing number of poor is a problem.  Labor costs are another challenge.

"In the last couple of years we've seen $2-million increase in our labor costs," she said.

However, she said you can't cut back on labor costs, if that happened there would be no hospital.

Despite the challenges they are facing, officials are still pressing forward with ideas to make the hospital thrive.  Eisenmann said they are currently sifting through data they collected from the community.  This will help officials determine what the real needs are.

"These small hospitals mean everything to these communities," she said.

Eisenmann explained the hospital is a huge economic engine for the community.  Plus, residents rely on the hospital to get services.

"Wilbarger County and then also over into Foard County really makes up our primary service areas," she said.

Once all of the data is collected it will be presented to board members at the hospital.  Eisenmann said this could take several meetings.  From there, they will come up with several strategies to move forward with.

"There may be things that we're doing here at the hospital that don't make sense for us to do any longer," she said.

This could mean that some services at the hospital would be phased out.  On the other hand, new services could be brought in.

Eisenmann said many hospitals across the United States are struggling with the same problems as Wilbarger General.  She said in the last 10 years, the number of rural hospitals that were forced to close increased substantially.  However, Wilbarger General is not in jeopardy of shutting down.

"We are a hospital with money in the bank," she said, "We're supported by some tax dollars here in the community, which really helps provide a little bit of cushion."

There is no timeline on when officials hope to be out of the red.  Part of this is because they are still in the beginning phases.  Another reason is because they will have to continue adjusting the strategies to the community's needs.

"We're going to keep refining our plan and our strategy along with our board and we're going to be successful," Eisenmann said.

She explained their initial plans will most likely last between three to five years.

Alexandra McClung, Newschannel 6