And Mercy also was able to produce an operating profit of $3 million in the year ended June 30, 2010, with St. John's adding $170 million in operating revenue and $167 million in expenses, according to Mercy Health's latest annual report.
But for now, most of St. John's patient volume is likely to go to the competition, Freeman Health, Whelan said. Along with other nearby hospitals, Freeman was generous with its support of St. John's in the aftermath of the storm, Britton said. “We may be friendly competitors on some levels,” but when something like this happens, that gets put on hold, he said. At some point, though, that competitiveness is going to return, with Freeman holding the upper hand for a while. In order to stay partially operational, St. John's planned to open a 60-bed mobile hospital—with electronic health records—over the weekend offering emergency care, surgery, imaging, laboratory services and inpatient care.
The Joplin market has shown to be a tough one for both hospitals. While St. John's was losing money for CHI, Freeman's hospital in Joplin also reported mixed financial performance in recent years. Unaudited financial statements for its fiscal year ended March 30 showed an operating loss of $7.3 million, though nonoperating income—mainly investment income—was strong enough to produce net income of $2.4 million. In the previous year, the hospital recorded operating income of $2.2 million and net income of $20.1 million, according to the financial statements. Damageto Freeman facilities included the destruction of its Ozark Center for Autism, part of Ozark Center, a behavioral health operation, according to its website. A Freeman spokeswoman said executives there were too busy dealing with the storm to comment for this story.
At St. John's, engineers last week began evaluating whether the hospital building could be salvaged. At least 20 of its employees' homes were destroyed, and 40 had significant damage to theirs, Britton said. Employees will continue to be paid, he said, and efforts are under way to get them placed at least temporarily with facilities accepting patients as a result of the storm. Britton said Mercy appreciated the outpouring of support it has received from the healthcare industry.
The hospital was evacuated in about 90 minutes under trying circumstances, including the loss of power and a building with exposure to winds that exceeded 200 mph. “I couldn't be more proud of the doctors and nurses in the hospital that night,” Britton said. “They were very brave and very courageous.”
The state's disaster preparedness plan was implemented quickly and without hitches, according to Leslie Porth, vice president of health planning for the Missouri Hospital Association, which acts as the state's liaison in coordinating the plan. Ten to 12 hospitals in Missouri accepted patients from Joplin, as did hospitals in nearby Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma, she said. “It has gone extremely well,” Porth said. “We had been undergoing extensive emergency preparedness planning,” she said.
Two-hospital CoxHealth, Springfield, Mo., was among those that helped. Officials for CoxHealth said it sent five ambulances, three doctors, six emergency room nurses and five ER technicians. “Off the top of my head I can't think of a department that wasn't affected by the disaster and our response to it,” said Dr. John Duff, CoxHealth senior vice president and administrator of Cox Hospitals.
The country's disaster preparedness, meanwhile, is threatened by cuts to HHS' hospital preparedness program. The agency reduced funding by 11%, or $42 million, for fiscal 2011, which ends Sept. 30, and funding has been cut every year since it began in 2006, said Roslyne Schulman, director of policy development for the AHA. “I think we're getting away from the fat and into the meat of the program at this point,” she said. The association is working to prevent further cuts when the law that created the program comes up for reauthorization this year, Schulman said.