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Ely hospital shows growth

THANKED for her service on the Ely Bloomenson Community Hospital board of directors was Kelly Klun (center) with CEO Patti Banks and board chair Tim Riley.

Big jumps in surgery, radiology help result in a profitable year

by Tom Coombe

Despite some challenging headwinds, Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital held its own financially over the last 12 months.

Ely’s independent, privately-owned hospital posted a profit during the 2023 fiscal year, and showed substantial growth both in surgeries and radiology procedures.

Those were among the highlights of a financial report delivered Monday during the annual meeting of the hospital’s umbrella organization - the Ely Health and Hospital Foundation.

The hospital posted operating income of $369,120 on total revenues of  roughly $30.8 million.

“To come out of (2023) generating  a profit is good,” said Tim Balthazor of Duluth accounting firm RSM.

Balthazor presented the financial report and the result of the hospital corporation’s annual audit, and noted that EBCH remained in the black during a year when most hospitals posted a loss.

“Across the nation, for the first time, the national average for net income is negative,” said Balthazor. “You guys came out generating positive growth.”

Overall revenue for EBCH climbed by approximately eight percent, and approached the total of $31.2 million taken in during 2019 - prior to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Operating expenses climbed by about 10 percent, from $27,589,386 last year to $30,457,073 in 2023.

“Hospitals and health systems faced headwinds,” said Balthazor. “Yet your net income grew.  You were able to increase services and generate more revenue, and you had the difficulties everybody is facing with inflation, paying more for workers, having to use travelers, having to may more for supplies.”

After jumping from 194 to 239 in 2022, hospital admissions fell back to 184 this year, but EBCH chief executive officer Patti Banks said that “is kind of the trend everywhere, where people are being treated in an outpatient setting. The goal is to not have people stay in a traditional hospital stay.”

Despite the drop in admissions and a large dip in retail pharmacy prescription fills (66,236-56,853), EBCH grew its revenues in other areas.

The hospital has actively promoted its surgery offerings, and surgical procedures in 2023 climbed by more than 25 percent to 617 compared to 482 last year and 394 the year before.

“Our surgery department is doing more procedures, including general surgery, colonoscopies, some minor ortho at this point in time,” said Banks. “So they have been busy down there in the surgery department.”

EBCH has marketed its surgery offerings, encouraging Ely area residents to stay close to home rather than travel to Virginia or Duluth for procedures.

The hospital’s radiology department has been enhanced by new equipment, funded in part by successful grant applications, and radiology visits have nearly doubled in two years, going from 4,170 to 7,516 to 8,524 in that span.

Emergency room traffic also continued to climb, with 3,700 visits this year, compared to 3,403 a year ago and 2,983 in 2021.

Swing bed days nearly tripled in the last 12 months, jumping from 135 to 392.

Those gains have allowed EBCH to maintain healthy financial footing, as federal Covid funds have dried up and admissions fell.

Balthazor noted that the corporation’s net assets grew by about $1 million over the last 12 months, jumping to $17.4 million.

He walked through a series of ratios and percentages used to gauge the financial health of a hospital, including overall and operating margins and debt service.

EBCH has 158 days of cash on hand, down from the 182 reported last year but still above the 134.5 it reported four years ago.

“You’re right in line with the average and again it’s a healthy spot for the hospital,” said Balthazor.

He added “the hospital has 4.1 dollars to pay for every dollar of expense (and) that you have the ability to take on more debt.”

EBCH also is one of the region’s largest employers with 127 staff members, including 105 full time.

Banks said the hospital is now less-reliant on contracted staff who come in from outside the area.  She also touted surveys showing both employee and patient satisfaction.

“Without the effort of all of us  working together, you wouldn’t see those outcomes,” said Banks.

EBCH is one of 14 hospitals across Minnesota that remains independent and not reliant on a larger health care system.

Banks said that EBCH is looking to the future, engaging conversations about what the facility may look like in 2030.

“We’re thinking beyond the next couple of years,” she said. “I don’t know if we have the answers but sometimes if you ask a lot of questions and have a lot of open conversations and exchanges, it really helps to define future goals.”

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