Columbia Memorial recruits board members, adds five physiciansFour new members will join Columbia Memorial Hospital's board of trustees in June and July to bring new ideas to the discussion of the direction the hospital should take in the next few years and beyond.

Randy Stemper and Bob Hauke joined the board June 1, while Amey McNally and Dr. Norm Shatto will become board members July 1.

"We looked for a commitment to the hospital and to the community" in choosing board members, said hospital CEO Terry Finklein Tuesday. "We feel that they fulfilled these criteria, plus give a nice overview of interests, skills, and expertise to the board."

Stemper, who owns Astoria Builders Supply and Gearhart Builders Supply, brings a business and entrepreneurial perspective, while Hauke, who was an administrator at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Eugene, has experience with health care, said Finklein.

McNally, who is an administrative assistant with Hees Enterprises, has worked on projects with the hospital and her church, and Finklein added that Shatto, a veterinarian, is involved with community service activities and is familiar with the agricultural community.

The addition of these members brings the total number of board members to 13.

"I see it as a decision to strengthen and broaden the depth of the board," said Finklein. "It's always nice to get different perspectives in the discussions and making operational decisions that are tough." The board sets the policies and long-term goals of the institution.

Board members will not be the only new faces at Columbia Memorial this summer.

As part of an effort to recruit physicians, the hospital conducted a study to check the medical needs of the community. As a result, five new doctors with different specialties have been hired.

Dr. Daniella Mittan, who focuses on endocrinology, joined the medical staff recently. Over the next two months, the hospital will welcome a pediatrician, a general surgeon, an urologist, and an ear, nose and throat surgeon.

Another change that hospital administrators hope will occur is the official designation of Columbia Memorial as a Critical Access Hospital. If the institution is granted this designation, it will increase the reimbursements the hospital receives when providing services to Medicare and Medicaid patients.

"It brings in additional cash," said Finklein. "It allows us to look at programs and services differently."

Increased reimbursements could allow the hospital to bring back programs like the outpatient chemotherapy treatment center, which closed in early 2003, forcing many cancer patients to seek treatment in Portland and elsewhere.

The hospital's application for designation is in the hands of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and Finklein said he hopes to have a decision by July 1.

"We need to be able to stabilize our health care facilities and access to health care," said Finklein. "Reimbursement is a critical factor. We're making sure we're as efficient as we can be and hold down costs, but still support growth."

The hospital is a not-for-profit institution, and doesn't receive funding from the government, so depends on reimbursements from Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance companies and individuals for their operating costs. It also receives support from the Columbia Memorial Hospital Foundation, which raises money for the institution.

For a rural, regional hospital, "it's hard to have the volume to support the basic operation of the facility," said Finklein. "Like every business, we have ongoing costs. We have to maintain state-of-the-art facilities, diagnostic tools, surgical equipment, laboratory equipment, plus the cost of attracting and retaining highly qualified employees."

Still, he said improvements in efficiency have helped bolster Columbia Memorial's financial situation since two years ago, when the hospital had its first operating loss.

The hospital is also working to implement the Plantree model of health care, which is designed to focus on the needs and comfort of patients. The healing garden, visitor and patient lounge complete with Internet access, a piano in the lobby and an aromatherapy program are all part of the model.

"We want to make our hospital less institutional and more home-like," said Finklein.

Overall, he said, residents should feel comfortable knowing that they have highly qualified physicians just down the road.


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