24 local jobs lost as Memorial Regional Health eliminates billing, coding department
CRAIG — The impact of decisions made to improve medical billing at Memorial Regional Health hit hard Wednesday morning, as 24 employees learned the billing/coding department — and their jobs with it — had been eliminated.
The MRH Board of Trustees voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a contract for outsourcing billing and coding to Zion Revenue Solutions, LLC, a company based in Longview, Texas.
“Today, we made the decision to no longer be in the business of billing and coding records,” said MRH CEO Andy Daniels.
The three-year contract with ZRS will see the company paid based on a percentage of net revenue and MRH will be protected by a 90-day “out.” Contracting the service will cost the hospital about the same as billing and coding in-house.
In a letter sent to all MRH employees, Daniels wrote, “Early this morning, I had to make one of the most difficult decisions in my career.”
The impact on 24 people
Angela Oberwitte was the billing/coding department’s newest employee.
She’d worked only a week when she became one of 24 people at MRH to lose her job. She learned of the decision during a mandatory staff meeting held in the hospital conference room at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
“I quit a job that I’d been working at for two years. I was a full-time, benefitted employee and decided to make a change to develop a career,” she said. “To be blindsided a week later … that seems unethical. Why didn’t they freeze hiring? Why were they adding more staff?”
She and her husband, Richard, are both resigned to the reality that businesses make difficult choices.
“Cuts are part of life, but you don’t hire someone and then turn around and cut them. It’s not that they made cuts, but the method and timing of those cuts,” Richard said.
He was also disappointed that local jobs have been outsourced.
As Richard placed a supportive hand on his wife’s shoulder, she said, “I’ve not had a moment to think about what’s next.”
Angela joins other displaced employees with less than a year of service, who were given two weeks’ pay in lieu of notice. Employees with a year or more of service were provided severance packages, and all were provided an option for temporary extension of health benefits.
They will also be offered opportunities to apply for positions with ZRS. Daniels expects ZRS to hire approximately four employees locally. Former employees have also been encouraged to apply for current and future MRH openings.
“We had to do it clean, to not discriminate,” Daniels said. “We have lots of jobs posted. Not everyone will have the skills, but there are positions open, and as we continue to grow, we would invite those folks to apply and, possibly, come back into different roles.”
Decades of problems
The new company will start by sorting through decades of billing and coding problems.
“We’ve had billing issues in the organization for lots and lots of years, decades really. The community knows it. Our employees know it,” Daniels said. “It may get worse before it gets better.”
Some of those issues have had negative impacts on patients.
“The most painful billing decisions have been when people have tried to get loans for new homes or other things, and, on their credit reports, bad debt with the hospital would appear, and we research it and learn that’s not the case,” said MRH Vice President of Operations Jennifer Riley.
A large percentage of billing was already being outsourced.
“We had been using two different extended business offices and two different collection agencies. Those contracts have been eliminated, and the remaining agency is through the Western Healthcare Alliance, located in Grand Junction, Colorado,” Daniels said.
The move to outsource billing and coding brings MRH in-line with practices used by other health care systems, including nearby UC Health, Daniels said.
“We are not billing just for hospital services anymore. We’ve added doctors, specialties, and we did it very, very fast,” Riley said. “It adds to the complexity.”
Improving billing/coding was a priority for MRH trustees.
“As a board member … the majority of calls that I get are in regard to billing. We spent 18 months trying to make corrections unsuccessfully,” said board chair Todd Jourgensen. “This year, it was our top goal.”
The decision was about the bottom-line, but it was also about the level of service, MRH officials said.
“Even though this was an extremely difficult decision, billing is the last thing you remember. It has to be done well. You can’t afford to leave money on the table, and we have to do it right. We owe it to our community to do it correctly,” Riley said. “We needed to utilize a service of experts.”
Impact on patients
All bills will have the logo and look of the MRH brand, Riley said. It’s one example of how the transition between billing systems is expected to be seamless for patients.
The billing portal on the website and app will continue to operate. Patients can continue to call the same numbers they always have for billing help. Patients can also still come into MRH to talk with staff about billing.
And, in future, patients will be offered new cost estimates, which are expected to rollout once personnel in charge of registration receive additional training and retraining.
“When all is said and done, patients can expect better answers, clearer bills. And, we will be able to provide upfront costs estimates of services,” Daniels said.
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.