Hospital Reviews Year Scarred By COVID-19

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“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times,” Hillsboro Area Hospital President Rex Brown said summing up the past year during the hospital’s annual meeting on Thursday, Oct. 15.

Hillsboro board members participated in the meeting remotely.

Describing the “best of times,” Brown recounted new services, research projects and screening undertaken by the hospital since the middle of 2019. The worst of times? “Then COVID hit,” the hospital president said before listing reactions to the pandemic that began with activating incident command.  The hospital also postponed elective surgeries, “scoured the country” for PPE equipment and other supplies, closed the cafeteria and implemented a ‘no visitor’ policy, suspended outpatient physical therapy, and began screening and testing employees and patients.

“Then some sort of a Trojan Horse entered Tremont Ridge,” Brown said of the assisted living facility.  Fifteen residents tested positive for the virus, and eight of those 15 died due to COVID.  

Seven staff members also tested positive, 10 resigned due to the outbreak, and six medication nurses took temporary time off.

Brown said that although COVID prevented students from entering the facility for the Summer Lunch Program, this past summer thousands more meals were served by delivery.

He also noted that patient satisfaction surveys were up.

“We were able to provide excellent care to our patients during the ‘worst of times,’” Brown said.

During her report, board Chairman Lindsay Wagahoff thanked the staff, leadership, and the board.

“We have an incredible staff,” Wagahoff said.  “They were dealing with the same challenges we all had, but they couldn’t stay home.”

The financial report showed an operating margin of 18.2 percent, well above last year’s 7.6 percent, but Terri Carroll, vice president of financial services at the hospital, credited most of that to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) act funding.

“If you remove that, it’s similar to 2019,” she noted.

Full time equivalent (FTE) jobs were up, too, from 172 last year to 180 this year.  Carroll credited that to new services at the hospital.  A federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan helped make sure those jobs remained during the pandemic.

“You don’t get to this kind of financial position to make it through COVID without planning ahead,” Wagahoff said in thanking Brown and hospital leadership. 

In part of his “best of times” recap of the year before the pandemic, Brown talked about the completion of the Little Leaps three-year student, “demonstrating success with the techniques to engage the parents with their children to improve the learning abilities of HCCDC children.”

The hospital also began the David A. Imler Youth Assessment research project, named after the former hospital board chairman who died on Jan. 6.

“These results came out about the time of David’s passing,” Brown said of the project that researched depression in youth.  “A partnership continues between the SIU School of Medicine’s department of populations science and policy, the local school district leadership and staff, and Hillsboro Area Hospital.”

In addition to Little Leaps and the Imler Youth Assessment, another cooperative effort with the SIU School of Medicine is lung cancer screen research.

In her report on the foundation, board member Julie Jenkins said the annual purse auction will be on-line this year beginning on Oct. 29, and the Valentine Gala will be replaced this year with an appeal to benefit the Imler Youth Assessment.

Near the end of the meeting, board members Wagahoff, Earl Flack, and David Hough were reelected, and Brown announced that the medical staff had re-appointed Dr. Ben Cady to the board.

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