By Ann McCreary
Three Rivers Hospital will continue efforts to recruit new physicians and increase both outpatient and inpatient use of the facility under its new chief executive officer, Scott Graham.
Graham, former CEO of Coulee Medical Center in Grand Coulee, began working for Three Rivers Hospital on May 12, replacing Bud Hufnagel.
In an interview arranged by the hospital last week, Graham said Three Rivers faces many of the same challenges as Coulee Medical Center and other rural hospitals around the nation.
“Reimbursement dollars are shrinking and costs continue to go up,” Graham said. The hospital is working with a national recruiting firm to recruit an obstetrician/gynecologist, two family practice physicians and two nurse practitioners to staff a new outpatient clinic, Graham said.
“We want to increase the service line we offer. We’re working on physician recruiting to … provide greater access to outpatients,” he said.
Graham commended Hufnagel, who was hired in 2011 to turn around the hospital’s financial situation, for reducing Three Rivers’ debt from a high of $3.2 million last year to $1.5 million. For many years, the district hospital has been covering operating costs through registered warrants from Okanogan County.
Three Rivers plans to keep its obstetrics unit open and continue delivering babies, said Graham and Vicki Orford, chairman of the hospital commission. Graham said it was “clear that it’s a community priority.”
Budget cuts proposed previously by Hufnagel that included eliminating the labor and delivery unit prompted vocal opposition from community and hospital staff.
Graham resigned from Coulee Medical Center in April, two weeks after hospital commissioners ordered an investigation into whether they could fire him for cause, according to reports in The Star in Grand Coulee.
In a resignation letter, Graham said the board refused “to act in good faith toward me and my position as hospital CEO” and “engaged in a pattern of retaliatory conduct against me since I properly raised the important issue of physician compensation being out of compliance with federal law,” according to The Star. He said he intended to pursue “liability claims” against the hospital and physicians.
“I’m not interested in saying anything more about that,” Graham said last week. “What’s been reported was accurate.”
Graham has a three-year contract with Three Rivers Hospital and an annual salary of $180,000.