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Patient increase allows MSHA to add 100 nurses

Nathan Baker • May 21, 2014 at 9:14 PM

After several quarters of shedding jobs, Mountain States Health Alliance, one of the region’s largest employers, was finally able to announce some hiring gains Wednesday.

In an emailed press release, the health care system said it hired more than 100 nurses at its affiliated hospitals in the past two months, turning around a loss of 650 positions since February of last year.

CEO Alan Levine attributed MSHA’s ability to hire more staff on the clinical side to a 4.7 percent increase in hospital admissions since January, which he said was partially created by fostering positive relationships with referring physicians.

“We’ve done a lot of outreach to our physicians,” Levine said. “We’ve worked very closely with our doctors and earned the trust of our physicians, so that, when they’re helping their patients decide where to seek care, they’ll recommend one of our facilities.”

Other cost-saving measures instituted by Mountain States have helped to reduce the affects of the millions of dollars in Medicare reimbursements lost each year by the system as part of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, money that was expected to be partially returned to hospitals when hundreds of thousands of Tennessee and Virginia residents were given health insurance through Medicaid programs.

To help keep costs lower, Levine said physicians are being encouraged to shorten patients’ hospital stays when possible, and the system has undergone major trimming on the corporate and administration side.

The 160 positions cut in January by Mountain States were mostly at the corporate level, he said, and the patient volume increase has allowed the system to grow its clinical staff.

“We want to put more resources into our hospitals, and that’s where an overwhelming majority of these hires have been,” the CEO said. “While we’ve reduced corporate administrative costs, we’ve increased our investment into bedside nursing.”

The increase in admissions comes on the heels of a 6.6 percent decline in patient volumes in the previous seven months.

Levine said those are certainly figures MSHA will be watching, but the year-over-year growth appears to be a significant upward trend.

“We’re definitely going to staff according to demands, if drops off again, you’ll see us reduce full-time-equivalency positions again,” he said. “Our staff is based on the volumes in our hospitals — they have to be — we can’t afford to staff for business not there, but if this was a one- or two-month phenomenon, it might be an anomaly, but with four months of growth, we’re considering it a trend.”

The new nurses were hired across the system, but a larger number came in at its four largest hospitals, Johnson City Medical Center, Indian Path Medical Center, Franklin Woods Community Hospital and Johnston Memorial Hospital.

Follow Nathan Baker on Twitter @JCPressBaker. Like him on Facebook: www.facebook.com/jcpressbaker.

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