July 10, 2008

Bon Secours Hospital Braces for Red Ink, Cuts 30 Beds

By Nancy Young, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.

Jul. 10--NORFOLK -- Citing financial troubles and a low number of patients, Bon Secours DePaul Medical Center took 30 beds out of service Wednesday.

"We consolidated a nursing unit because of our financial situation and a low bed census," said Lynne Zultanky, a spokeswoman for Bon Secours Hampton Roads Health System. She said the hospital was on track to lose $7 million this fiscal year. "We're trying to find appropriate ways to be good stewards of resources."

All staffers affected by the consolidation have been offered jobs elsewhere in the system, Zultanky said. She said she did not know the number of employees affected or how much hospital officials expected to save as a result of the change.

The news was greeted with concern by Norfolk city officials.

"It just appears that they're prepared to let the hospital wither on the vine," said Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim. "It's clear that they're not prepared to maintain the level of service that they've committed to in the past."

The move comes a little more than a week before a public hearing on July 18 on Bon Secours' application to the state health commissioner to build a new, much smaller hospital at the DePaul site.

The nonprofit Catholic health system's plan includes downsizing DePaul's 238 licensed beds to 64. Ninety of DePaul's beds would be transferred to a proposed new hospital in the Princess Anne section of Virginia Beach. Forty-eight beds would be transferred from Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center in Portsmouth to a proposed new hospital in northern Suffolk.

The 30 beds taken out of service at DePaul will continue to be licensed but not staffed. Before this consolidation, DePaul had 165 staffed beds,

according to Virginia Health Information, a nonprofit group that collects health care data. Zultanky said that the number of beds in use recently has typically been in the 70s.

Bernard Pishko, Norfolk's city attorney, said this was another sign that Bon Secours "is abandoning care for the indigent." He cited the overall profitability of Bon Secours in the state and region. Besides the hospital in Portsmouth and an outpatient center in northern Suffolk, Bon Secours has facilities in Newport News and the Richmond area.

According to city calculations, Maryland-based Bon Secours averaged almost $70 million in excess revenues annually throughout Virginia between 2004 and 2006.

"I know for a fact that this charitable hospital can afford to continue offering services," Pishko said.

Zultanky disputed Pishko's analysis, saying that such a consolidation is a common practice among health care systems dealing with a low patient census. "Our commitment is to care for individuals in our community," Zultanky said. "We are

adjusting our financial situation so we can continue our ministry in Norfolk. ... We have never denied anyone access to care."

In June, Norfolk city officials withdrew their support for Bon Secours' reorganization plan that would make DePaul into a 64-bed hospital. They hired a consultant who said an appropriate size would be 134 beds, with a larger intensive care unit and emergency department.

Since then there have been some discussions between city and Bon Secours officials, Fraim said. He said he took part in one meeting as recently as Monday.

"They did not mention anything about the downsizing that was announced today," he said Wednesday.

Nancy Young, (757) 446-2947, [email protected]


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