Terry Amstutz came to McGehee Hospital in January 2019 to help it turn around. So far, his efforts are working.
“We want to be a little better than we were last year,” said Amstutz, the hospital’s CEO.
“That’s why we’re moving toward sustainability, not just survivability,” he said.
Since he arrived, the hospital has added services, recruited doctors and improved its financial health, said Amstutz, whose previous experience included leading Magnolia Hospital, Hope Medical Park Hospital and Baptist Health Medical Center-Stuttgart.
The turnaround, though, hasn’t been without its challenges.
Services at McGehee Hospital, in a scene familiar to nearly all other health care providers, were upended when COVID-19 hit Arkansas a year ago.
There was a week in April when McGehee Hospital had no patients in any of its 25 beds, Amstutz said.
During the state-imposed pandemic lockdown, McGehee’s patient visits fell by 52%, as patients stayed away from the emergency room, as they did at other hospitals.
“It was very disconcerting for everybody,” Amstutz said.
Still, for the fiscal year that ended June 30, the hospital had operating revenue of $12.9 million with a net income of $810,265, he said. That was an improvement from its fiscal year that ended midyear in 2019, when it had an operating revenue of $10.9 million with a loss of $662,947.
Patients are slowly returning to the hospital.
One day in February, it had 10 patients, a “high number” for the hospital, which usually has between five and 10 patients admitted, Amstutz said.
To help boost finances, the hospital received a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program for $1.07 million. It also received funding from the Medicare Accelerated & Advance Payment Programs and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, as well as an advance from Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield. Those measures, and the ability to tap other COVID-19 grants and stimulus funds, “really helped McGehee Hospital in 2020,” Amstutz said.
About six years ago, the hospital began working with a fundraising consultant, Walt Eilers, president of Terrapin Consulting LLC of Little Rock. As a result of his efforts, last year the hospital received $568,000 in grants for programs.
“The little critical access hospital that I started working with in 2015 is now a much different, more vibrant hospital,” Eilers said.
Amstutz said that when he arrived at the hospital, the staff was “terrific,” the hospital’s board and providers were committed to the hospital and the community supported it.
“And those are the four things that you need to make it successful,” he said. “There was some potential for this hospital to do much better and to really build on what they have.”
The hospital also added services under Amstutz. Last year, it began offering Holter monitors to patients. The monitor measures and records a patient’s heart activity for a day or two, and then a cardiologist can use the results to diagnose any abnormalities or any issues with the heart.
This year the hospital is adding a sleep lab and an electroencephalogram to conduct brainwave studies on patients. The studies are important for stroke diagnosis and a stroke patient’s recovery. “So that’s going to be an important new service for us,” Amstutz said.
The services are expected to start in June, or sooner, he said.
In 2016, McGehee Hospital completed a $10 million expansion, and in 2017 it opened a $2.7 million rural health clinic. The hospital used the new structures as recruiting tools for physicians and nurses.
The strategy worked, attracting family practice Drs. James Renfroe and Jamie Evans to McGehee.
And more are on the way. The hospital will add Dr. Austin Beatty in September and Dr. Tessa Herren in 2023.
Amstutz said the work to recruit the doctors was done before he arrived. He said some rural hospitals have only one doctor and that physician is often past retirement age because of the difficulty in recruiting physicians.
“So the minute that person doesn’t show up for work someday, … the hospital is really in big trouble,” he said.
Fortunately, McGehee Hospital wasn’t like that, he said. The hospital has “a lot of potential for a lot of success in the future.”