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Upstate hospital earns small profit thanks to staff reductions, more bill collecting

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Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse has been able to turn a small profit after two years of deep losses, due in part because the hospital reduced its staff and increased bill collection.

The public hospital eliminated 139 positions in 2013 through attrition. It also relied a little more on contracted labor, said Stuart Wright, the hospital’s chief financial officer.

"Sometimes they can be cheaper, overall, but it’s not our overall goal to have temporary labor, but it can be slightly less expensive," he said.

Those savings, plus boosting patient billing collections by $117 million, helped the hospital post a $1.1 million profit for the year. That’s after it lost about $35 million over the previous two years.

But state aid is still declining and expenses, like payroll, are rising. Also patient admissions to Upstate ticked very slightly down -  by 393 - to 28,843. Wright says that’s likely because more patients are being treated as outpatients.

"So in the past, you might have had a surgery that you had to get admitted for, now can be done on an outpatient basis," Wright said. "So part of that is, you’re seeing continued shifts to the outpatient side."

The hospital is also completing a multi-year conversion to electronic medical records, which cost several million dollars.

Wright says the financial squeeze has forced the hospital to delay or forgo planning for capital improvements, like new construction or renovations.

"We’ve been able to get by," he said, "but certainly, there are things we’ve had on our wish list for some time."

That list includes converting the older section of the hospital to all private patient rooms.

Aid from the state has declined about $20 million in the past six years, according to Wright, and the hospital's request for a capital budget has been rejected in recent years.