CEO: OMC is still recovering from pandemic

Revenues down, staffing costs up

PORT ANGELES — Washington state’s COVID-19 emergency may have ended last October, but Olympic Medical Center’s operations continue to be affected by the worldwide public health crisis and the subsequent omicron surge that began in December 2021, according to CEO Darryl Wolfe.

“2022 was a tough year for OMC, but it was a tough one for hospitals across our state,” Wolfe told the Nor’Wester Rotary Club on Friday.

The pandemic worsened an already existing workforce shortage and a strained emergency department were among the challenges OMC is tackling, he said.

OMC’s 1,600 employees make it Clallam County’s largest employer and about 1,200 people a day access its system, Wolfe said.

Wolfe joined OMC as a financial analyst in 2006 and, after serving in a number of leadership roles, was appointed CEO in 2020. According to the state Department of Health, Wolfe received $256,989 in compensation in 2021.

OMC was not alone when it came to the impact of omicron on state hospitals that collectively lost $3.2 billion in 2022, Wolfe said.

Increased costs and spending related to the omicron surge contributed to OMC’s 6.6 percent operating loss in 2022, he said.

Those expenses could not be avoided, he said, while at the same time revenues took a hit when staffing constraints meant elective procedures, among other services, could not be performed.

“We stood up a clinic, we had a drive-through testing center,” Wolfe said. “Some of that was reimbursed, but much of it wasn’t. We were spending $60,000 to $70,000 per month to do all that testing. We didn’t have the in-house capacity to do that much volume, so we were sending a lot of it out. It was what had to be done.”

Like health care systems across the country and state, OMC continues to rely on expensive contract labor to fill the gaps in its workforce. Contract labor was “a problem,” he said.

“We have as many as 75 contract staff people at any given time,” Wolfe said. “That’s everything from RNs, lab techs, to folks in our imaging department, to respiratory therapists, to physical therapists. Those are generally two to three times the cost of an employee.”

Payroll expenses were previously 62 percent of revenue and have risen to 73 percent, Wolfe said.

OMC’s emergency department is staffed with providers supplied by Sound Physicians, but most are locum tenens — temporary — physicians. Over the next few months, six physicians and three advanced practice clinicians will start working in the emergency department permanently to alleviate the reliance on locum tenens, Wolfe said.

(OMC had signed an agreement with Sound Physicians of Tacoma last June after it did not renew its contract with longtime emergency department physician partner Peninsula Emergency Services, Inc. — PESI — of Port Angeles.)

Wolfe acknowledged reports of long wait times in OMC’s emergency department and said steps had been taken to move people through the system faster and more efficiently.

“I’m not gonna tell you that we fixed all that, but I can tell you that we’re not alone,” he said. “We’re trying to be as innovative as we can. We’ve set up a, what we call a rapid medical exam program where as soon as you present to the ER, you’re engaged more quickly by a provider, your labs are started, your x-rays, if you need them.”

He added, “There’s a lot of people working very, very, very hard on that, and that’s a constant discussion every single day.”

Wolfe said one of the ways in which OMC wants to address its workforce shortage across its system is by working with community partners to enhance the local pipeline to the health field. Peninsula College offers are nursing, phlebotomy, medical office assisting and addiction students. However, enrollment in them has declined.

“We’re working closely with the college,” Wolfe said. “In the last [nursing] class they graduated, I think there were 30 RNs, and I think we picked up about 20 of them.

“If there’s a silver lining to the pandemic, it’s that we all learn to work together pretty well and realize that we’re much stronger together.”

________

Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached at paula.hunt@soundpublishing.com.

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