A pain in my AVH | AspenTimes.com

A pain in my AVH

Roger Marolt

For those of you keeping score at home, Aspen Valley Hospital is getting crushed this month. More accurately, they’re being beaten, battered, butted, butchered, hammered, pounded, basted, pasted and lambasted.

Why? Because they deserve it. That’s why.

In case you haven’t heard, they’re leading the league in unearned runs. That’s what it’s called when the accounting department runs to the post office looking for checks from patients who haven’t been billed. Good luck, team!

Unofficially in April, the staff has fixed eight blown ACLs, repaired four rotator cuffs, delivered six babies, stitched up one chin, pulled a raisin out of little Bobby Jones’ nostril and handled a few emergencies. Then, management wiped out that good effort by completely devastating 34 families’ lives.

That’s not a very good tally for an organization whose mission it is to help people.

Lately, the problems at the hospital have been explained to us in terms of a moving target of missing dollars that most of us couldn’t summarize on an Excel spreadsheet the size of an IMAX movie screen. Is the problem best expressed as a deficit of $1.7 million (a crappy house in the West End), $5.2 million (a nice townhouse in Two Creeks), or a whopping, stopping,

eye-popping $11.7 million (a big deal even in this town)?

I can’ t keep it all straight.

But more to the point, has anyone counted the number of tears that have been shed by the employees that were fired last week? How many of us have done the math to double that number for their spouses? Add a few gazillion more from their kids and we’ll have this problem sized up about right.

What’s that? You mean the tears won’t stop after this week is over? How about the next? Or the next? Or the next after that? No? Hmm, it appears that I haven’t thought this all the way through.

What exactly is the current exchange rate for a tear? Is it an even one-for-one, dollar-for-drop? I’ll bet worried tears in the middle of the night are at a premium about now. What do we pay for the tear we can’t see, the ones stuck in the back of a man’s throat as he silently watches his dreams of a secure retirement turn into the nightmare of applying for a second mortgage?

By comparison, that $11.7 million is going to look like a spit in the bucket after we get a handle on this, if ever we can. How many tears does it take to restore self-esteem, pride and sense of worth anyway?

Now then, I work with numbers all day long. I understand numbers. They make sense to me. I can see as plain as red ink on a balance sheet that something had to be done to save the hospital from financial ruin.

What doesn’t make any sense to me is how 34 hospital employees, not responsible for this mess, trying to do their jobs, showing up to work on a Monday morning, were rolled off the grill and kicked into the embers like a stray hot dog at the urologists’ picnic.

I’ve talked to a few employees who witnessed the firings. It sounds like most of them went something like this:

“Good morning, Boss. You must have come in early this morning. I usually don’t see you until about coffee break. Let me get inside and hang up my coat. Is this a good opportunity to meet for a few seconds? I’ll grab those billing reports I’ve been telling you about for the past several years. I worked them up again last night. I think we have a problem in accounts receivable. Do you want to meet in your office or my cubicle?”

“Schmidt, you’re fired.”

“Wha …?”

“You’re fired.”

“Bu …”

“You’re fired. Security is waiting for you to clean out your desk. We’ve already taken down your pictures, put your coffee mug in a box, and erased your personal code form the copy machine. You have 15 minutes to gather your stuff. Make sure all of the pens bearing the hospital logo are placed in the top drawer of your … ahem, excuse me … our desk before the guard escorts you back out to the parking lot.”

It’s obvious that the board of directors and management out there don’t have a clue about finances. That’s excusable. They appear to be equally incapable in dealing with people. That’s not. Thankfully the staff has been able to keep the quality of care at a high level anyway. I hope they can continue to do so with 65 percent of a full roster.

The CEO and the CFO have both been relieved of their duties, albeit with severance packages that wouldn’t embarrass an Enron accountant and glowing recommendations to boot. The current board should resign en masse. The only thing any of them should be running for now is good health.

Here’s the campaign slogan for anyone trying to unseat an incumbent in the upcoming board election: “Vote for me. It couldn’t get any worse!”

What really needs to be done, though, is for someone wearing a blue blazer at the hospital to show a little compassion. Someone has to take responsibility for this. Not necessarily the financial troubles. Those can be worked out with pencils, calculators and a few green eye shades. It’s just money, after all.

Rather, someone has to sit down with the employees who lost their jobs, meet them, put an arm around their shoulders, and tell them that this is not their fault. They need to apologize for treating them like a patient with $2,000 deductible, $75 co-pay, and no prescription card. Only then can AVH become a true community hospital again.

It’s time for the healing to begin.

Roger Marolt is fervently praying for continued good health. Join him at roger@maroltllp.com