FORT WORTH -- The JPS Health Network board of managers unanimously approved a $680 million budget Saturday that includes money to "go live" with an electronic medical records system and proposes closing four community clinics.
The property tax rate would remain 22.8 cents per $100 of assessed value. The budget must still be approved by Tarrant County commissioners, who appoint board members.
Network CEO Robert Earley said hospital officials were proud to submit a balanced budget despite a year that saw increased patient volume and a difficult economy.
Seeking an increase in the tax rate was "part of the conversation," but the hospital did not want to put a greater burden on taxpayers during hard times, he said.
"I think it is important for citizens to know we take their money seriously," Earley said. "We want to be efficient with their money, even though the pressures the public hospital is under are greater."
The 2012 budget faced "numerous curveballs," hospital administrators said during the budget retreat.
The hospital district will lose about $18 million in reimbursements for treating Medicaid patients from the phasing-out of federal stimulus money that started in 2008.
The hospital also faces financial uncertainty because of Medicaid payment reform, the details of which are still being resolved.
On May 5, the network will activate its electronic medical records system. David Salsberry, JPS chief financial officer, said the system should benefit patients but comes at a big price: $40 million this year.
Four clinics closing
The budget proposes consolidating services at several community clinics, including the closure of the Alliance, Tri-Ethnic, Riverside and allergy clinics. Patients would be shifted to nearby clinics, officials said.
The decision to phase out the clinics came after an examination of patient volumes and proximity to other clinics providing similar services, officials said. An architectural and planning firm hired by JPS to review its facilities reported last month that the network's sprawling facilities have hurt efficiency.
Earley said hospital officials "felt strongly" that the plan will not harm patients' ability to get care.
The budget also proposes consolidating specific services at other clinics. For example, expensive radiology services at the Northwest clinic will consolidate with the Watauga clinic; Diamond Hill services with Stop Six; and the South Campus with Viola M. Pitts, said Bill Whitman, JPS chief operating officer.
At some clinics, "the volume is so low that maybe [patients] could travel another 10 minutes and go to another center, so you don't have the cost of staff and maintenance of multiple radiology departments," he said. "We're trying to regionalize some of the more expensive services."
The budget also calls for modifying hours at school-based clinics to account for lower patient volume during the summer and closing the urgent center at the main campus from midnight to 6 a.m. Monday through Thursday.
A year after decreased valuations led to an $8 million loss in property tax revenue for the hospital district, revenue seems to have stabilized, Salsberry said. The hospital district's tax base is forecast to increase more than 1 percent this year.
That would boost tax revenue from $273 million last year to $275 million this year.
However, Salsberry displayed a graphic illustrating how much tax revenue the district would have collected if the trend of increasing tax valuations of the mid-2000s had continued.
Under those circumstances, the district could have collected $336 million this year.
"That just shows the impact the economy has had," Salsberry said.
Whitman said the 2012 budget focuses on efficiency and the progression of ongoing projects, including disease management programs, the realignment of the emergency department to reduce waits, and the creation of medical homes in clinics, in which patients receive coordinated and comprehensive care.
This year, the network will activate a 24-hour phone service that will allow clinic patients to call a nurse and get information about conditions rather than automatically visit urgent or emergency departments.
The system will pay for itself if it diverts 28 people a month from the emergency room, he said.
Alex Branch, 817-390-7689