MURRAY — Murray-Calloway County Hospital CEO Jerry Penner will be keeping his position at least another four years.
Wednesday, the Murray-Calloway County Public Hospital Corporation Board of Trustees voted unanimously to extend Penner’s contract for four more years. Penner, who is in his eighth year at MCCH, was also given an option for a fifth year.
“This is my dream job,” said Penner, an alum of Murray State University, after the board informed him of its decision following an executive session to discuss the matter. “As a matter of fact, I’ve had some people asking me about job offers in just the past few weeks.
“I had one person call me and say, ‘Now, before you hang up on me, this is a seven-figure offer to run a two-hospital system in Illinois. Are you interested?’ I asked, ‘Do you have any Racers there?’ They said no. I said that I’m not interested.”
That quip drew laughter from the audience.
“Yesterday, I was also called to put my name in the hat for (the president and CEO’s position) with the Tennessee Hospital Association,” Penner continued. “Along with that, I was asked, ‘By the way, are you interested in the Kentucky Hospital Association (whose long-time director Mike Rust is retiring after 24 years)?’ But there’s loyalty here. You all have been very good to me (and his family) and I can’t imagine a better place to work for.”
Penner was in an especially good mood before the board took its action Wednesday. The MCCH Balanced Score Card, which measures a series of metrics to see how the hospital compares with state and national guidelines, showed that patient satisfaction – a measurement Penner has emphasized from the day he arrived in Murray – is at an all-time high mark of 94.5.
“That is not only for the hospital but all associated clinics and practices, including Spring Creek Health Care,” Penner said. “That is really outstanding work by everyone involved and they deserve a pat on the back for that.
“I’m really proud of how far we’ve come since I took over (in 2011). We have come a long way and we’re continuing to work hard to get even better.”
Penner also said there are some developments in progress that should help keep that number way up. During the meeting, he told the trustees about the upcoming arrivals of five new physicians that have been inked to contracts. The first of those will begin seeing patients in July.
Returning to the Balanced Score Card, Penner also said that several changes are being made to how the hospital gauges its performance. He unveiled six new categories that will be part of the measurement vehicle, and he hinted that several others are either being discontinued or are under evaluation as the information used for those is in flux.
“The reason you’re seeing some of these not move (with scores going up or down) is because CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) has put all star ratings on hold. Some of these were supposed to have started in February and we’re still not seeing anything new, so we’re in a holding pattern and waiting to see what’s going to happen,” he said.
New metrics include three with internal processes — sepsis bundle, Caesarian section rate and having patients undergo head Cat Scans or MRI examinations and having those results within 45 minutes in cases where patients are believed to have had a stroke. Three others are for resources, including increasing the donor pool for endowment support, maintaining that donor pool and decreasing the fund balance for the Anna Mae Owen Residential Hospice House.
All of this is happening at a time that the hospital’s financial numbers appear to be in anything but positive shape as it underwent yet another of what hospital CFO John Bradford referred to as a “challenging month.” For March, MCCH ended with a net income loss of $450,000, putting it nearly $2 million under budget for the year.
However, Penner addressed this Wednesday and told the trustees that things are not as dire as they appear. That was the same thing he told numerous hospital employees last week in a series of town hall meetings to discuss various issues, including the finances. The recent struggles might be bringing back memories of 2012-13 when the hospital’s days cash on hand sank to a critical 68 days and nearly 50 employees were laid off.
“We’re nowhere near that here,” Penner said after the meeting. “The layperson will read an article and see, ‘Gosh! They lost a million dollars or $600,000 in a month!’ They think you lost that. No, we didn’t lose anything; we didn’t earn it against the budget.
“Go back to 2012. We had the budget sequester (from Congress), a bridge that got knocked down (Eggners Ferry, taking away a lot of patients from neighboring Trigg County) and we did have this thing called Medicaid managed care here in Kentucky that took a lot of our reimbursements away. (In that case), it was true – we were losing millions of dollars for work we were doing but not getting paid for.”
Wednesday, MCCH’s days cash on hand is at 124 days. That is down from 143 about a year ago.
“You know why we’re down? We’re spending that to invest in this facility,” Penner said. “We’re buying new roofs, we spent $4 million for a hybrid lab and didn’t take a new loan out for that. But when you replace things and buy new things at $800,000 or three, four, six million dollars a pop, yeah, your days cash is going to go down.
“And that days cash at 124 sounds good, but if it’s sitting there and doing nothing for you, it’s still sitting there for a rainy day. That means I can close the doors to this place with no patients, no surgeries, no babies being born, nobody at Spring Creek, nobody at the hospice house, nothing for 124 days and our staff still gets paid and their benefits taken care of, compared to 68 from 2012.”