Picture brighter for two Provena hospitals

Picture brighter for two Provena hospitals

URBANA – With one of the two hospitals under his watch turning a profit and the other losing considerably less money than it did a year ago, David Bertauski may be just what the doctor ordered for Provena Health's financially ailing Central Illinois region.

Last year, Provena's Covenant Medical Center in Urbana and United Samaritans Medical Center in Danville lost a combined $6.8 million – with Covenant's $10 million loss wiping out a gain in excess of $3 million at United Samaritans.

These days, the Mokena-based hospital system and Bertauski – who took over as chief executive of the Urbana and Danville region a year ago – paint a considerably brighter picture: Through this past June, Covenant was running at an $800,000 deficit, and United Samaritans was showing a $2.5 million profit.

Bertauski's boss, Provena Health Chief Executive William Foley, says he couldn't be happier with that progress.

"I think Dave and his team have done an outstanding job on stabilizing the situation there and turning things around," he said.

Foley credits Bertauski with pulling off a nearly $4.7 million turnaround: During the first six months of 2005, the two hospitals in Provena's Central Illinois region lost a combined $3 million, once again all due to losses at Covenant.

For the first half of this year, the region was showing a $1.68 million profit, he said.

Foley said the combined financial performance of the Urbana and Danville hospitals has even pulled ahead of two other hospitals in Mokena-based Provena's six-hospital system. So far this year, the central region is outperforming Provena hospitals in Aurora and Kankakee, he said.

Foley said he expects nothing short of success for United Samaritans, considering Danville is a one-hospital town.

Covenant, he said, continues to be hampered by heavy competition from Carle Foundation Hospital and Christie Clinic and annual property tax bills exceeding $1 million – a result of a 2004 state Department of Revenue ruling denying Covenant tax-exempt status.

Bertauski has gotten operations and expenses under control, taken advantage of opportunities to increase patient referrals from smaller regional hospitals and recruited key physicians who bring in more business for the hospital, Foley said.

"It has really inspired people there, and it's had a snowballing effect with morale and everything else," he added.

Two hospitals, two plans

Because the Urbana and Danville markets are so different, Bertauski said, he is focusing on building business differently for each hospital.

At United Samaritans, a key focus is new technology, he said, and at Covenant, the emphasis is on building the Provena Medical Group's physician practice.

Provena is preparing to spend about $3 million on new technology at the Danville hospital during the second half of this year and early next year, and that will include upgrades in diagnostics and radiation therapy, Bertauski said.

While United Samaritans doesn't have a competing hospital to worry about, it does have a location that makes it handy for patients to leave the area and go to Indianapolis or Champaign-Urbana for technology the Danville hospital doesn't offer, he said.

Two of those missing pieces of technology at United Samaritans are digital mammography and an open MRI, Bertauski said.

United Samaritans is partnering with a New York company to bring in an open MRI that will operate near the hospital campus and be up and running by October, he said.

That will allow for some upgrades to be made to United Samaritans' closed MRI, which runs at nearly 100 percent capacity, Bertauski said. Upgrades will improve diagnostic capability for head and neck, breast and knee areas and vascular diseases, he said.

Also on the way for the Danville hospital are digital mammography and an upgrade in the hospital's radiation therapy unit, Bertauski said.

Provena is also recruiting more doctors in Danville, particularly in pulmonary medicine and orthopedics – though not to the extent that recruitment is under way in Urbana.

Covenant is looking to recruit 16 more doctors this year – two pediatricians, five family practice doctors, a general surgeon and other specialists in urology, radiation and medical oncology, psychiatry, obstetrics and gynecology, cardiology, endocrinology and orthopedics, Bertauski said.

To compete effectively with Christie Clinic – which has added its own radiation oncology center and is proposing to build its own outpatient surgery center – Bertauski said it's essential for the hospital to build its own multispecialty medical group that will refer patients to Covenant for needed medical services.

"We're not going to get that from Christie," he said.

Part of that plan involves persuading the local independent doctors not affiliated with Christie or Carle clinics to affiliate with Provena Medical Group – which Bertauski says would offer those doctors some competitive clout as well.

Dr. George Savvas, a Champaign general practitioner, says he's certainly considering the idea and he knows some other independents are also thinking about it. At 75, Savvas said, he'd like to slow down a bit and he sees some advantages to being part of a medical group.

Looking ahead

Despite Covenant's improved financial performance, Bertauski still projects that hospital will wind up with a loss this year, largely due to the heavy cost of recruiting new doctors and setting them up in practice, he said.

Two unknowns that could help or hurt the hospital's financial situation:

– Covenant continues to wait for a decision from the Illinois Department of Revenue on an appeal seeking the reinstatement of its tax-exempt status. Foley said the last he heard after a meeting with the governor's office a month ago was that a decision was coming "any day now."

– The outcome of Christie Clinic's application to the state seeking permission to build its own outpatient surgery center: The clinic says most of the business for its surgery center would be derived from Covenant's outpatient surgery business. Bertauski said Covenant, which was offered a partnership in Christie's surgery center but turned it down because it wasn't a good deal for the hospital, already has adequate surgery space.

"We're going to do whatever we need to do to prevent Christie from establishing a surgicenter," he vowed.

Meanwhile, Bertauski and Foley both say Provena Health remains committed to keeping that hospital in its system and its doors open in Urbana.

"We're in for the long haul," Bertauski said.

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