Highline Medical Center Lays Off At Least 24 Full-Time Employees

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by Scott Schaefer

Burien’s Highline Medical Center announced late last week that it will be outsourcing its business office, resulting in the layoffs of at least 24 full-time employees, effective March 16.

HMC will be outsourcing to an Atlanta-based company named Optum Insights, effective March 19.

“This was a very difficult decision,” said Mara Burke, Assistant Administrator. “Our billing staff has worked hard to keep up with the increasing demands and complexity of hospital billing. Billing companies like Optum that specialize in coding and collections have advanced systems and technology that individual hospitals cannot afford. Many hospitals across the nation have chosen to outsource coding and collections because of the complexity and specialized expertise required.”

In addition, HMC closed its 20-bed Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) program on March 9, citing a 15 percent decrease in Medicare reimbursement. This cut has also created a budget shortfall of more than $1 million.

“With another 10% reduction in reimbursement projected for 2012, we can no longer afford to subsidize this program,” Burke added. “Skilled nursing facilities in the community have the capacity to admit our patients. We have made staffing reductions in departments exceeding the national standards compared to hospitals of similar size for efficient staffing levels.”

“At this time, we don’t foresee additional layoffs,” Burke said.

Burke adds that Highline Medical Center has been impacted by cuts in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, as well as increasing numbers of uninsured patients. She also said that according to data from King County Public Health, the three communities with the highest rate of uninsured are all in HMC’s primary service area.

“More than 21% of the population living in Burien/Des Moines, White Center/Boulevard Park and Tukwila/SeaTac are without health insurance, compared to 12.5% in King County overall,” she said.

Burke also said that a task force of HMC’s Board of Trustees, Administration and Medical Staff “has developed a very thorough and thoughtful plan for evaluating all of our options for either forming a partnership or remaining independent. We expect the Board of Trustees to make a decision about a strategic partner by June 2012. For over 50 years Highline Medical Center has served the healthcare needs of our community as an independent hospital. Our selection criteria will identify the best way to support our mission of improving the health of our community for the next 50 years.”

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