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Hospital out $1.5 million

Eben Harrell
Aspen Times Staff Writer

An Aspen Valley Hospital official said last night that the institution will lose $1.5 million due to erroneous billing practices.

Financial committee head and board member John Jellinek said the amount reflects patients not being billed within 12 months of treatment. The gap in billing means the money isn’t reclaimable from insurance companies.

Hospital officials were under the impression they had 18 months to bill patients, Jellinek said.

To date, approximately $15 million in hospital services have not been reimbursed, although the board hopes to fix billing problems in time to collect most of the money.

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The hospital is in the middle of a financial crisis. The hospital board room Monday night was crammed with women in white jackets as nurses went before the board of trustees to plead against cuts in the nursing staff.

Last month, interim CEO Bob Karp hired an independent efficiency expert to assess how to cut costs, including the possibility of staff cuts.

Yesterday the head of AVH’s nurse council, Mary Shelton, told the board it would be a mistake to fire nurses. She asked the board to look at reducing payroll of higher management first if cuts are necessary.

“We are protective of our jobs, not as just income, but because we love what we do,” Shelton told the board, reading from a prepared statement. “If payroll cuts are necessary we feel everyone should share in them, starting with top management, not just those who are caring for the patients.”

Board members responded that the hospital’s financial crisis is far reaching, and not just the result of inefficient staffing. Board President John Sarpa told the nurses that many different aspects of hospital spending ” from physician contracts to board spending ” were under scrutiny.

“We are looking at everything,” he said. “We’re not putting any one group in a laser beam as we try to make this better.”

“We’re looking across the board, from top to bottom. Terminations are not what we are about,” Karp followed.

After it was announced that attempts to recover a large amount of unbilled hospital expenses would have to be abandoned, several nurses in the audience expressed frustration. They argued that cutting nursing staff seemed like small pennies compared to the amount lost due to billing practices.

“I don’t understand why we have to cut one of my $300 shifts when we’re losing millions by not billing patients,” one unidentified nurse said.

Sarpa responded that although billing is a crucial issue, it is not the only area where the hospital needs to increase efficiency.

“Even if we could fix billing overnight, we’d still have to do more,” he said.

[Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com]


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