Jason Studley and Harris Powers Jr.

Jason  Studley, left, goes over an item with the Greenwood Leflore Hospital Board during its monthly meeting Tuesday.  To the right of the hospital’s CEO is Harris Powers Jr., the board’s chairman.

While many of the nation’s hospitals worry about how they will cope with a rising number of COVID-19 patients, Greenwood Leflore Hospital officials remain optimistic about their capacity to deal with the pandemic.

“We feel we have a great handle on it even with the upcoming predicted surge in COVID cases,” CEO Jason Studley said Tuesday.

At the onset of the pandemic, doctors and other health care providers around the world were learning mostly on the fly how to treat the novel coronavirus. Since then, Studley said, the Greenwood hospital has been able to more quickly identify those who have contracted the virus and turn their illness around, thus freeing up beds to treat new cases in its specially created intensive care unit.

“We feel like we are better able to cope and handle this than we were at the beginning of the year. We’ve really got our systems down,” he said.

As of Tuesday morning, the hospital was treating 11 patients in the 14-bed COVID-19 unit. Four of them were on ventilators to help them breathe.

“We’ve gotten to the brink of getting to our limits, but then we’ve been able to treat the patients and move them along,” Studley said.

The hospital has maintained enough capacity that it has been able on occasion to accept patients from other Mississippi hospitals as well.

Also on Tuesday, the Greenwood hospital board received the latest update on the financial performance of the publicly owned medical facility. In October, the first month of its fiscal year, the hospital turned a profit of $176,000, compared to a loss of $190,000 the year before.

As in most recent months, however, the improvement was largely due to the coronavirus relief funding that the hospital received earlier this year. The hospital has been drawing down as needed each month from an accumulation of nearly $25 million in grants, most of it from the federal government.

In October, it applied $953,000, leaving it with a balance of $7.7 million to still use against future potential losses. The hospital also has a reserve of $16.5 million in advance payments on Medicare under a separate federal program. This second pot of money, though, is a loan that the hospital will have to start paying back next year, unless Congress changes the terms.

Studley, who was hired last month to take the place of interim CEO Gary Marchand, said the hospital is “moving in a positive direction.” The reserve of coronavirus relief money, though, provides a cushion that allows it “to continue moving forward and providing the high level of services without having to cut any back right now,” Studley said.

The government assistance is designed to help hospitals with the extra expense of treating COVID-19 patients as well as offset declines in patient volumes elsewhere.

Net patient revenue at the Greenwood hospital was down $1.3 million in October, or almost 14%. Expenses were also down $436,000, or 4%. The hospital’s operating loss — before applying coronavirus relief funds and investment income — was $828,000, three times higher than the same month a year ago.

Studley said the hospital is still seeing a reluctance in patients to have elective procedures done due to their anxiety about the virus. The hospital has recently seen an uptick, though, in patients seeking endoscopy and cardiology screenings, he said. “That’s a good sign.”

Another positive noted by Dawne Holmes, the chief financial officer, was a nearly $300,000 increase in “other revenue” in October as a result of a federal program that requires participating pharmacies to rebate the savings on certain drugs the hospital purchases from them.

“That program is really doing well,” she said.

In addition, the hospital is receiving a grant of nearly $1 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand telemedicine services, including the ability to monitor patients remotely. Studley said this is just the beginning of a strategic plan by the hospital to do more in the way of telemedicine, which has grown increasingly popular during the pandemic.

• Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or tkalich@gwcommonwealth.com.

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