OHSU Finances Hold Steady; Board Looks At Complaints

OHSU Hospital photo.jpg

Oregon Health & Science University is holding steady financially as it emerges from the sharp downturn in business that took hold at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring and summer.

Patient volumes and revenues, while off from a year ago, are in line with OHSU’s projections, according to the report for the first quarter of the fiscal year prepared for the board of directors’ Thursday meeting.

And OHSU’s massive investment portfolio continues to do well and provide a backstop.

For the first quarter, which runs July 1 to Sept. 30, operating revenues were $855 million, down from $863 million for the same period a year earlier. OHSU eked out a small profit for the quarter but that is projected to be turned into a $55 million loss for the entire fiscal year as new costs swallow up the savings.

The big new costs include full salary restoration for faculty and administrators, which started this month; contract negotiations with nurses and so-called house officers, a category that includes residents and fellows at OHSU; and temporary additional employees to help with handling COVID-19.

At the same time, strong investment returns have pushed up the value of the investment portfolios of OHSU and its foundation by $122 million, to $2.9 billion.

The report highlighted the varied ways COVID-19 has wrenched OHSU financially.

Inpatient admissions for the quarter were off 11.5% compared with the year-earlier period; but the average length of stay was up 8.9%; surgical cases were down 14.7 %; emergency department visits were off 15.7%; but ambulatory visits were up 15.8%; the “casemix index,” a measure of case complexity, was up 8%; and outpatient pharmacy services were up 8%.

The volatility may continue, given that COVID-19 cases are on the rise with the cooler weather that sends people indoors. The mix of patient health insurance coverage may change as employer-sponsored coverage runs out. New federal rules expanding employee leave for COVID-related child care could affect finances; and the future of the Affordable Care Act comes before the U.S. Supreme Court in November.

“However, (OHSU) has preserved its underlying financial position, providing a platform to climb back to where revenues cover expenditures on an ongoing basis,” Lawrence Furnstahl, the university’s chief financial officer wrote.

In a separate report, OHSU’s Integrity Office reported that nearly half of the 570 complaints it received last year were substantiated, with the balance being either unsubstantiated or dismissed.

The report said 272 cases were substantiated, 205 were unsubstantiated and 93 were dismissed.

The office handles a wide array of complaints, including violations of OHSU’s 35-page code of conduct, as well as on training or conflict of interest issues, and any other general concerns.

Complaint volumes fluctuate from year to year. In 2018, there were 1,396 complaints, with 52% substantiated, the report said. In 2016 there were 370, of which 47% were substantiated.

The report doesn’t provide any details about specific cases or steps OHSU took on complaints that were substantiated.

But allegations of racism at the institution have erupted periodically. Since 2017, there have been several incidents of nooses, including one this past spring when an OHSU employee posted an image of a noose during an online work session. A number of Black employees told the administration in an internal email that was shared with The Lund Report that they don’t trust OHSU to handle complaints about racism, calling the institution an “enabler of racism.” 

OHSU hired an outside consultant to look into the complaints.

Separate from the Integrity Office, OHSU’s Dr. Derick Du Vivier, senior vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, is working on diversity initiatives.

The office, which has staff throughout OHSU, reports to the company’s top lawyer.

In the current fiscal year, which started July 1, the office is working to review and update the code of conduct, the report said. The goals are to get public comment, address the “format and length” of the code, and provide “easy access and reference.”

The code addresses a wide range of topics. For example, it prohibits “shouting or yelling” and “using profanity.” More generically, it encourages employees to engage in “self-resolution” and to speak directly with co-workers with whom they have a conflict. It also asks employees to use “collaboration, mutual respect and clear communication” to try to resolve disputes. And it prohibits retaliation against anyone who is making a complaint.

The Integrity Office this fiscal year is also working on training on topics as diverse as the prohibition on hazing; monitoring compliance for new employees on badge training; and the shipment of dangerous goods.

You can reach Christian Wihtol at [email protected].



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