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Costs up 7 percent, but PMC still among lowest in region Leaders remain happy with Piedmont's rates

Dr. Ed McKinney, a radiologist, looks at the image of a patient's heart on the Picture Archiving and Communication System at Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill. PACS is the biggest investment in technology Piedmont has made in the last year. The average costs at the hospital increased 7 percent last year, but PMC still is among the lowest of 11 hospitals in the region, according to the hospital's annual report.
Dr. Ed McKinney, a radiologist, looks at the image of a patient's heart on the Picture Archiving and Communication System at Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill. PACS is the biggest investment in technology Piedmont has made in the last year. The average costs at the hospital increased 7 percent last year, but PMC still is among the lowest of 11 hospitals in the region, according to the hospital's annual report.

Average costs at Piedmont Medical Center increased 7 percent last year, but the Rock Hill hospital still is among the lowest of 11 hospitals in the region, according to the hospital's annual report to the county.

The increase -- about $2,000 per stay -- is due to longer stays by patients and the intensity of service, said Charles Miller, the hospital's CEO and president.

York County Council members, who received the report this week, are pleased with the efforts to contain costs. Rates had not increased at the 288-bed hospital for several years.

"(Average) rates have gone up, but the cost of medicine has gone up as well," council Chairman Buddy Motz said last week. "Comparing their average cost to the others, the others have gone up about the same rate. It looks like they improved their services. All in all, I think it's an excellent report."

According to its contract with the county, PMC can't have the highest rates among hospitals in its peer group. In 2003, the average rates were under fire when they topped the list, and since then, the hospital has worked to lower costs.

The hospital has the fourth-lowest rates, according to data from federal Medicare figures that break down the cost for each hospital in 25 treatment areas. It ranked eighth-lowest out of the 11 hospitals, the same rank it held last year.

Richland Memorial Hospital in Columbia tops the rankings with average rates of more than $45,000. Gaston Memorial Hospital in Gastonia, N.C., is the lowest, with average rates around $20,000, according to the report.

In last year's report, which covered the years 2004 and 2005, the hospital's average rates went down by 4.2 percent to $27,753, according to the data.

In this 2007 annual report, PMC rates averaged $29,759.

Some council members are content the hospital's rates have stayed competitive in the area.

"The chart speaks for itself," Councilman Rick Lee said. "Competition with Gaston and Charlotte hospitals is paying off with lower medical cost."

After PMC was criticized by the County Council for having the highest rates in the area in 2003, the hospital froze them and hired a consultant to evaluate lowering the prices.

The county and hospital owners have had a contract on issues such as pricing for almost 30 years. A 1995 agreement calls for the hospital not to rank No. 1 in pricing on the Medicare data.

Other requirements include capital investment, ambulance response times and care for those who can't afford it, Motz said.

"All those areas met or exceeded what the contract requires," he said.

Other PMC notes from the report:

• The hospital spent $19 million on indigent care, including more than 900 inpatient and 1,220 outpatient accounts.

• There are nine ambulances stationed at seven stations across the county. Miller said PMC is considering adding more based on the call volume.

On average, EMS responds to calls to the city of York in 8.20 minutes; eastern York County in 8.32 minutes; Clover/Lake Wylie in 10.25 minutes; and western York County in 18.11 minutes. These are all less than the county mandates, beating the Clover/Lake Wylie acceptable time by more than seven minutes.

• The western York County facility has been open 24 hours a day since July. It saw about 16 patients a night in August, September and October -- most of whom came before midnight, Miller said.

It would take about 45 patients in a 12-hour period to cover the facility's operating costs, but Miller said he doesn't expect to see that volume yet. The center primarily treats colds, sport injuries and common illnesses.

• The legal battle over the Fort Mill hospital is set to go before a judge in May, but Miller has commissioned an architect to move forward with the design. He said the largest loss while awaiting the lawsuit is the rising costs of construction.

• Capital improvement dollars between June 2006 and May 2007 increased more than $10 million from the previous year, from $12.5 million to $22.5 million.

• The hospital will pay for students to attend York Technical College toward a nursing degree as long as they work for PMC for two years afterward. Miller said there isn't a cap on the number of students who can take advantage.

The hospital gave more than $54,000 in scholarships and money to York Technical College and Winthrop University between June 2006 and May 2007. It also provided more than $533,000 in various educational programing and publications.

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