Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital looks to the future

Keith Vandervort
Posted 12/5/18

ELY— It’s been a very good year for the Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital, which saw revenues and profits jump dramatically in the first year under new chief executive Michael Coyle.

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Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital looks to the future

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ELY— It’s been a very good year for the Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital, which saw revenues and profits jump dramatically in the first year under new chief executive Michael Coyle.

About two dozen shareholders of the Ely Health and Hospital Foundation, which serves as the umbrella organization for the hospital, attended the facility’s annual meeting here on Monday and heard an upbeat financial assessment and audit report by Caryn Goettsch, senior audit director at RSM US LCC.

According to Goettsch, the hospital’s net worth jumped from $7.623 million at the end of the 2017 fiscal year to $8.58 million in 2018. The hospital’s fiscal year runs from Oct. 1-Sept. 30.

The hospital’s improved financial position was aided by a $568,000 operating profit in the latest fiscal year, a sharp improvement from the $106,000 operating loss last year. Total operating revenue increased 15 percent from $16.59 million last year to $19.01 million in 2018. “That shows a very strong financial position to be in,” Goettsch said.

“A lot of good things happened this year,” she added, “including adding more volume statistics, like more services provided by the hospital due in part to the addition of your general surgeon, and increasing other outpatient services as well as outreach to the community.”

Coyle’s first annual report to EBCH Foundation shareholders is the culmination of a lifelong love of the Ely area, especially the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

He related his experiences trekking to the BWCAW as a Boy Scout leader while attending school in Duluth. “Several years ago, my wife and I decided that when a job opened up anywhere near Ely, we would drop what we were doing and move here,” he said. “Mr. Fossum, being here for 20-plus years, was kind enough to retire and that opened up the job.”

Coyle thanked the shareholders for their part in the success of the hospital. This year marks the seventh year of a structural change approved by them. Instead of electing members to the hospital’s board of directors, they are elected to the foundation, which remains independent of direct hospital control in the event of a merger or integration. This model makes it easier to transfer control of the facility to another organization, such as Essentia, which runs the Ely Clinic.

“We are independent and remain locally-owned,” Coyle said. “We are not managed by anybody or owned by anybody. That is really important to us.”

EBCH is a 21-bed critical access hospital that receives reimbursement as a percentage of costs, according to Coyle. That differs from larger hospitals that are reimbursed according to the volume of care. “It is important that we remain as a critical care status [facility], because we get reimbursed a little bit different. Even though we have lower volumes, we can still keep our doors open,” he said.

With 100 employees at EBCH, the facility generates an annual payroll of $6.15 million. With benefits, the payroll reaches almost $8 million, according to Coyle. “We have very low turnover, I mean extremely low turnover. We have a wealth of knowledge and experience. There are people here with 30 or 40 years of service.”

Coyle credited the “fantastic” year in 2018 to the fact that “we weren’t afraid of trying new things,” including the hiring of a new general surgeon. “We’re going to be offering things like sedated dentistry in the very new future. A lot of things that you don’t typically see in a critical care hospital, you will see here in Ely.”

He offered some statistics to measure the growth at EBCH in the last year:

 Inpatient Days in the hospital, increased from 651 to 786 days.

 Hospital Occupancy Rate, increased from 5.1 percent to 6.2 percent.

 Patient Admissions, increased from 249 to 275.

Surgical Procedures, increased from 319 to 406.

A very visible and none-too-popular decision two years ago to end birthing services at the hospital will not be reversed, Coyle said.

“Delivering babies is an important part of every hospital when you have the ability and resources to do it,” he said. “Research shows that for a physician or nurse to be competent in that, they should be doing as many as 200 deliveries a year.”

EBCH was averaging about 21 births a year when they terminated the service. “That is not nearly enough to be competent,” he said. “Only 10 percent of all critical access hospitals in the United States deliver babies.”

Coyle credited the positive financial growth in the last year to people “having faith that we are providing amazing care.” He stressed, “Our goal is to help you not go other places.”

The EBCH Foundation pays for the cost of annual flu shots so they can be provided to the Ely community free of charge. Last year more than 1,500 flu shots were dispensed. “We just didn’t do this in Ely,” he said. “This year we also went to Babbitt and Tower, and for the first time we went out to businesses because we understand that every business owner can’t shut down just so their employees can come to our clinic.”

Coyle described a list of new services implemented at EBCH in the last year, including adding a surgeon, constructing a new hospital pharmacy, adding a new ultrasound machine, hiring a new emergency room supervisor and an ER management service, and developing a strategic plan, updated hospital logo and patient engagement surveys.

He also told shareholders to look ahead to 2019 for many new changes at EBCH.

“We will have a new 128-slice CT machine in our building in January or February,” Coyle said. “There is only one other like it in the whole country, and that is at Ohio State University. There is nothing this machine can’t do. We are completely renovating that department to make it comfortable for the patient, while having the latest and greatest equipment available.”

Other changes planned for 2019 include:

 Launching a new master building plan to make the facility more efficient.

 Increasing the number of specialty providers and surgical procedures

 Launching a new website.

 Acquiring new cardiac rehabilitation monitoring equipment

 Upgrading the IT infrastructure and wireless systems.

 Increasing community engagement programs.

 Administering a community health needs assessment.

Coyle has been on the job for about 10 months following the retirement of administrator John Fossum.

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