MURRAY – During Wednesday’s monthly meeting of the Murray-Calloway County Public Hospital Board of Trustees, hospital CEO Jerry Penner discussed the potential impacts of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers, saying it would greatly strain an already understaffed workforce.

Penner started his leadership report by cautioning “we’re not out of the woods yet” with COVID-19 and urging board members to be cautious when getting together with family and friends over Thanksgiving. Although he encourages everyone to get vaccinated, he said he is also very anxious about what the CMS requirement will mean for the hospital’s staffing needs. Under the mandate, all health care workers at facilities receiving Medicare and Medicaid dollars must have their first vaccine dose by Dec. 6 and their second by Jan. 4.

Penner said that although he thinks up to 75-80% of the staff may be vaccinated at this point, it will be devastating if MCCH loses 20% of its employees because of this mandate.

“If people walk off the job or I fire them as part of this guidance, that’s going to be problematic for this hospital,” Penner said. “Exemptions right now are running just short of 100, but when you’ve got 200 or 225 or so folks that haven’t been vaccinated, that’s going to be a problem. I can’t sugarcoat it any other way, but my thought has always been why didn’t they treat health care workers like they treated businesses?

“How long have we had the flu vaccine in place? It’s been decades, and if a person doesn’t take the flu vaccine, they wear a mask, and we’ve always done very well. COVID, last time I checked, is a flu, but now we’re treating this differently and I’m going to terminate people by this guidance. Because if I don’t, I put $91 million at risk from government pay that this hospital receives on an annual basis – and you all know I cannot do that. I’ve told the staff the same thing. I’m caught between a rock and rock. We’re going to follow the guidance, but if I follow the guidance, somebody’s going to pay for this on the back end. And I’ll tell you, it’s going to be the community.”

•••

Lisa Shoemaker, senior philanthropy officer for the MCCH Foundation, reported on several fundraisers over the past few months. In August and September, the basketball raffle earned $890, a linen sale earned $2,744 and a mum sale earned $558. She said the annual golf tournament earned $33,071.20 in net proceeds, which is the most money it has ever brought in.

The Enduring Hope Campaign to raise money for the new Regional Cancer Center has seen the number of donations decrease this year, but Shoemaker said the size of those donations has increased. The average donation this year was $267, up 708% from last year, while the number of donations was 446, which was down 79%.

Also raising money for Enduring Hope, Shoemaker said the hospital’s telethon was combined with Men in Pink, which raised $97,744 by the time of its closing banquet. After some more checks came in and Penner pledged to donate whatever else it took to push the total over six figures, that total became $100,001.

Melony Bray, MCCH’s director of planning and marketing, said the local total looks even more astounding when compared to a similar campaign in Knoxville, Tennessee.

“After we finished Men in Pink, there was an article out of Knoxville, Tennessee that their (Real Men Wear Pink) just hit $120,000,” Bray said. “So when you look at Knoxville compared to Calloway County, and we reached $100,000 in the end, that’s pretty impressive for our community to come out and bring that much.”

Discussing naming rights, Shoemaker said Roy and Jennifer Riley had purchased rights for a meditation garden, and John and Betty Foster have also committed to naming rights but haven’t decided what they want to put their names on yet. Shoemaker said the MCCH Foundation hopes to host a donor appreciation gala sometime in February, but doesn’t want to set a firm date yet since so many things have had to be rescheduled because of COVID.

In his monthly financial report, Vice President of Finance John Bradford reported that October was a strong month, primarily due to strong outpatient volumes. He said gross revenues were over budget by $2 million, or 5.6%, thanks largely due to outpatient radiology, endoscopy, cardiology and emergency room volumes. Bradford said the hospital had a total operating revenue of $13.5 million and total operating expenses of $12.4 million. Operating income was $1.1 million, while net income was $1.8 million.

Physician practices volumes were up 11% year to date, and net revenue was 7.6% over budget, mostly because volumes were up and the hospital had a lower bad debt percentage). Expenses were $12.4 million, which was 3% over budget. Cash and investments were up, with EPITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) was $2.6 million. Bradford said it was also a good collection month, with 249 days cash on hand. The MCCH Foundation took in $52,000.

At the beginning of his report, Penner paid tribute to Dr. Prue Kelly, a radiologist who worked at MCCH for 47 years and died recently. The board honored him with a moment of silence.