In the past year, Payson Regional Medical Center has spent $2.3 million on charity and uncompensated care, Chief Executive Officer Chris Wolf said at Thursday’s Citizens Awareness Committee meeting.
Roughly 17 percent of Gila County residents were uninsured in 2006, according to the most recent census data available.
All told, PRMC treated 81,000 patients as physicians performed 5,000 surgeries and delivered 200 babies in 2008.
The hospital spent $500,000 with local merchants. Wolf estimated PRMC’s total economic impact amounted to nearly $25 million. He added that every health care dollar turns into $2 in the broader economy.
Of the 18,000 who sought emergency room services, roughly 20 percent came from outside the immediate geographic area.
When an acute health emergency requires a helicopter trip to the Valley, Wolf said a patient can arrive in a Phoenix-area emergency room as quickly in a helicopter from Payson as in an ambulance in the Valley.
Thursday’s mellow, but scattered chat began with a swine flu update from the hospital’s director of employee health and infection control, touched on the cost of health care, and ended with an update on new equipment, including an MRI machine.
Although Wolf began his speech joking that he would respond to President Barack Obama’s congressional address on health care, the discussion touched only briefly on the tumultuous debate embroiling the nation.
Wolf said new studies have shown that over the long term, preventive care costs more than treating disease.
Payson resident John Wakelin said he didn’t agree with that idea, although he could see how pervasive preventive care could cost more than treating acute illness.
For example, annual mammograms for every woman that needs one would likely cost more than treating the one in eight women who actually get cancer.
Meanwhile, PRMC has spent more than $5 million recently to acquire new technology including a new endoscopy suite and a brand new MRI machine.
One person accused the hospital of misleading advertising, and making it appear as if doctors could perform procedures like angioplasty in Payson when they can’t.
“There’s no way you can get me to take a heart stress test up here,” she said, adding that she’d end up on a helicopter if the results were serious because Payson is not equipped to handle those cases.
“We can’t be everything to everybody,” Wolf said, adding that Payson hospital staff can conduct stress tests for most patients without a problem.
People speculate on a hospital’s efficacy because not all medical problems end happily, Wolf said. That’s the nature of health care.
Nature of swine flu still unknown
And the nature of swine flu, according to Kerry Cassens, director of employee health and infection controls, is still unknown. In fact, the test used to identify swine flu is only 50 percent accurate.
Cassens said clinicians will have to use their best judgment in identifying cases. “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck.”
Elevated numbers of swine flu cases have already appeared. Several weeks ago, 58 new cases had appeared in Arizona. However, in the week prior to Sept. 9, 109 new cases appeared.
“This is totally unusual,” Cassens said. The flu usually does not appear until the weather cools because heat kills it. Also unusual, younger people have shown greater susceptibility to the swine flu.
In Arizona, the average age stricken is 21. Greatest vulnerability typically appears with babies under 2 and seniors over 65. “This is a real change,” Cassens said.
The hospital has a “good supply” of anti-viral medications, and several local pharmacies already have seasonal flu shots in stock. The swine flu shot has not yet been released.