By NHRMC President and CEO, Jack Barto
Last week, I carried out a challenge from a couple of staff members who work here in the department that sterilizes equipment. By having a bucket of ice water dumped on my head, I followed a path millions had set before me.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was, first of all, really cold. But it was a rewarding example of a tradition we are extremely proud of at New Hanover Regional Medical Center - which is giving back to the community. And on that challenge, I believe we are leading the way.
As a county-owned hospital, we never lose sight of the fact that we are owned by the public and feel an obligation to give back to our community whenever we can. This sense of community goes well beyond justifying our tax-exempt status. If we paid taxes the same way a for-profit company might, our tax bill would be less than $10 million. Conversely, the annual value of our provision of health care to those who cannot pay will top, on an annual basis, $150 million - a figure that doesn't begin to express the overall "community benefit" of our investment in Southeastern North Carolina, a figure that includes the economic impact of our 5,600 employees and the services they provide to this region.
The value of this care goes well beyond a dollar amount. By restoring health to thousands every year who otherwise would not have been able to afford it, we are returning friends and neighbors to their families, their jobs and their lives, allowing them to invest in our economy and our community.
We receive no tax dollars to support any of our operations, and no other business is expected to operate by giving away 6% of its revenue to those who cannot afford it, at all hours of every day. But this is who we are, and we are proud to be able to serve in this role.
Of course, our community investment is broader than our provision of care for those cannot pay. We directly invest in the region's health in a wide variety of ways, every one of them a source of pride.
Our NHRMC Foundation raises money through its Pink Ribbon campaign for diagnosis, education and treatment of breast cancer. The largest component of this is a system we coordinate through our Clinical Outreach Department to offer free mammograms to women throughout the region, about 1,200 a year.
In a similar fashion, our Foundation raises money for cardiac disease awareness and detection through the Red Dress project, and this leads to our coordinating about 600 free cardiac risk assessments provided throughout the region.
We also partner with the New Hanover County Health Department on prostate screenings and offer depression, balance, skin and blood pressure screens throughout the year.
Many of the services we provide every day either bring in no revenue or not nearly enough to cover the cost of the service. For example, funding physician residencies in Internal Medicine, Family Medicine, Obstetrics/Gynecology and Surgery has the dual purpose of training doctors of the future and offering clinics where patients with limited financial means receive care. Our investment in this service is $7.7 million.
Offering VitaLine, a 24-hour free telephone health service, costs $1.3 million. Tracking all cancer tumors we diagnose in a registry for future analysis? $629,000. Staffing a team that follows up on our Congestive Heart Failure patients at home? $189,000. Giving free medications to poor patients and helping others apply for long-term medication assistance? $300,000. Funding assistance to Pender Memorial Hospital to keep that rural hospital viable? $1.26 million. And we could list many, many more examples.
Then there's the funds we invest directly into community sponsorships - about $350,000 overall. I want to be clear on this point: We try very hard to invest in causes that impact health care, and particularly health care here at home. Many national advocacy groups - American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, JDRF and the ALS Association - are important to individual employees and are therefore important to us. But we tend to favor causes that support efforts right here in Southeastern North Carolina and make a difference to the people we work with and treat every day.
We do not expect to have the same resources to invest in community sponsorships in coming years. Changes in state and federal policies regarding Medicaid and Medicare will cost us $20 million this year and more in 2015. Our hospital has been fortunate so far in our ability to absorb these cuts as our volumes remain strong and we work to reduce costs through efficient practices. Others have not been as fortunate, and community sponsorships will be among the first to go if government continues to reduce our funding.
But for now, we know our community expects us to invest in people, causes and efforts that mean so much to all of us, often at a personal level. As long as we're still able to do so, that's a challenge I will gladly continue to accept.