During its regular meeting Monday, the Regional Medical Center board approved an approximately $200,000 contract to expand the work hours for the hospital's emergency room physicians and nurse practitioners. The expansion is part of the hospital's efforts to handle current and future demand.
David McCormack, CEO of RMC, said the expansion contract was not budgeted and the board will have to find the money elsewhere.
"But if they get busier in the E.R., we'll be able to offset some of that cost," McCormack said.
RMC's emergency room has three, 12-hour shifts for its physicians and nurse practitioners. The expansion adds another two hours to each shift.
McCormack could not say how much patient growth the emergency room has seen this year. However, use of the emergency room has grown consistently during the last four to six months, McCormack said.
"We're getting busier," McCormack said. "And we're expecting growth to continue and if it does, we're prepared to fit that need."
In addition to the emergency room contract, the board approved an approximately $100,000 contract to hire a part-time hospitalist, again due to growing demand. A hospitalist is a physician whose primary focus is hospital medicine, including internal medicine, general pediatrics or family practice. The hospital already has six full-time hospitalists.
McCormack said demand was increasing partially because RMC is providing better patient care, but also because the population is aging and needs more treatment.
According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, the number of Calhoun County residents 65 years old or older increased 4.6 percent between 2010 and 2012. Meanwhile, the number of county residents younger than age 18 decreased 2 percent during the same timeframe.
Greg Kernion, chairman of the RMC board, said he was glad demand was increasing for the hospital's services, because that means increased revenue for the facility.
"This is a step in the right direction," Kernion said.
McCormack noted, however, that not every patient that RMC treats in its emergency room has health insurance. The hospital provides millions of dollars in uncompensated care each year. Also Medicaid and Medicare, two federal health insurance programs, have been cutting back on reimbursements to hospitals, tightening RMC's budget, McCormack said.
"But we're here to serve (uninsured patients), so we need the staff to do that," McCormack said.
Also during the meeting, the board learned of changes to the Medical Center Memorial Foundation's golf tournament fundraiser, set for April 2 at Cider Ridge Golf Course in Oxford. The foundation is the charity arm of RMC that serves mainly to improve health care in the area. The golf tournament is the foundation's biggest fundraiser.
McCormack said that along with golf, there will be vendors at different holes on the course offering prize giveaways. There will also be raffles for various prizes, such as putters and golf bags, many donated by local businesses.
"We're trying to build up the fundraiser in the community ... make it more interesting and fun so more will come," McCormack said.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.