Large crowd requests answers on the future of Tyrone Hospital

Last night, the Tyrone Area Elementary School LGI Room was crowded with many area residents concerned about the future of Tyrone Hospital.
Administrators, staff, board members, and corporate members from the hospital were present, along with a large crowd of members from the general public. Most of those in attendance came wanting and expecting answers as to why the hospital is in its current situation and what the hospital board and administration plan to do about it.
Board President Judy Norris, Chief Executive Officer Walter Van Dyke, and Chief Financial Officer George Berger presented information and fielded questions from those in attendance. However, no questions could be answered concerning the hospital’s recent filing of chapter 11 bankruptcy because their bankruptcy attorney, Jim Walsh, was unable to attend due to a court appearance in Pittsburgh. Norris said they will schedule another meeting at a date yet to be determined to answer any questions concerning the bankruptcy issue.
According to CFO George Berger, one of the problems facing Tyrone Hospital is a decline in use of the hospital’s services. One of his examples had to do with inpatient surgeries. He stated they have declined 15 percent from 2005 to 2006. He also stated outpatient surgeries have declined 2 percent from 2005 to 2006. The emergency room has had a 2 percent decline from 2005 to 2006. Admissions overall have declined 5 percent from 2005 to 2006.
Berger noted the hospital last made a profit during the 2000 fiscal year. At that point, it had a 1.6 million dollar surplus. He also noted the hospital initiated a program in 2004 to cut expenses and has cut expenses as much as they could without sacrificing the quality of the care and cutting services. Berger stressed the only way to improve the hospital’s current situation at this point is to increase revenue. One way for that to happen is for more people to utilize the hospital’s services.
In his presentation, CEO Walter Van Dyke stated that Tyrone Hospital is not alone. The issues the hospital is faced with are very common for all small rural hospitals. He also stated that Tyrone Hospital is a 25 bed facility and that hospitals in the category of 0-99 beds are the toughest to make money.
One solution that was mentioned extensively at this meeting by Van Dyke was the possible merger between Tyrone Hospital and another hospital. He had talked with several hospital CEOs. Some were not interested and some Van Dyke felt were too far away from Tyrone Hospital. Van Dyke said he felt that the two potential hospitals were Altoona Regional Health System and Geisinger.
He and the board have been speaking with Altoona Regional Health System about a possible merger. The hospitals have hired a third party consultant to study if this option would be a good move for both Tyrone and Altoona Hospitals. Van Dyke stressed several times that the board and administration are committed to keeping Tyrone Hospital an acute care hospital with an emergency room.
During the question and answer period, many concerns were addressed. One major concern for many in attendance was if a merger would cause the corporate membership to lose control of the hospital. When asked by a member of the corporate group if the hospital plans on dissolving or reducing the corporation membership with a merger, Norris responded, “Do I want anything to come to harm this hospital? Absolutely not.”
She noted later in the meeting that the board does not want to lose control, but there may be no choice if it means the hospital doors remaining open or not. When a corporate member asked if a merger would mean additional department closures or reductions, Van Dyke insisted that would not occur.
Before adjourning the meeting, Norris once again stressed what she and Van Dyke had been saying throughout the evening, “Yes, the community is behind us, but no, the community is not behind us.”
Norris reminded those in attendance of the low percentages of Tyrone area residents who utilize the hospital. “If you want to keep this hospital, you’ve got to use it,” she added.