Wallowa Memorial Hospital, the county’s largest employer, made a profit in 2018 along with significant strides in other areas, according to chief executive officer Larry Davy.

Davy spoke to the Chieftain about the banner year from his modest-sized office at the hospital. The National Rural Health Association, using a metric that ranges from patient care and satisfaction to financial strength, rated Wallowa Memorial sixth among 1,350 rural hospitals around the country.

“It think it’s a great commentary on our staff, our physicians and our community support,” Davy said. “It shows that local efforts for health care are very effective.”

Still, Davy said he and the staff are not satisfied with the ranking and are striving to be number one.

“We don’t target numbers,” Davy said. “But if you do your job well, with quality and service, those numbers come.”

Other awards came the hospital’s way, including the 2018 Excellence in Patient Satisfaction, which is based on patient survey aftercare. The hospital also won the 2018 Women’s Choice award as well. That award is also based on patient surveys.

“I’m not sure where the men are at, but we’ll keep working on them,” Davy said with a laugh.

The CEO noted that rural American hospitals face increasing economic challenges and many have closed over the last decade. National groups that assess financial strength of rural hospitals noted that about 600 of the remaining 1,300 or so hospitals are in tight financial situations. Davy is aware that Wallowa Memorial Hospital has to remain financially strong to keep offering excellent service.

To that end, he was pleased to see the hospital operate at a profit in 2018.

“It seemed impossible, but we pulled it off,” Davy said.

In 2014, the hospital was in $19 million of debt due to the construction of the hospital and clinic. The debt is already paid down to $11 million and is expected to be half that by 2022.

“The best thing we can do for the next generation is to hand them quality infrastructure and services without a debt load,” he said.

The hospital also strengthened services by offering access to an orthopedic surgeon, a podiatrist and an eye surgeon. Although the physicians are employed elsewhere as well, it offers local residents the chance for treatment without driving long distances.

Also a big winner for the hospital: Changing management of Wallowa Valley Senior Living, the hospital’s assisted living facility.

Vitalita took over management July 1 and made immediate improvements, particularly in operation costs, said Davy.

“Vitalita and Lisa Hilty (the company’s owner and president) has done an amazing job with that,” Davy said. “She has cut the losses significantly.”

In the six months since Vitalita entered the picture, the hospital has paid about $50,000, compared to the usual $200,000-$250,000 per year the hospital used to shell out for the facility.

“That’s a big positive for us,” Davy said.

The hospital is on track to essentially give away $1 million in health care to those without insurance or other means to pay.

“Our goal is to make sure no one is turned away,” Davy said. “A million dollars is a lot of money to a small hospital.”

He also lauded the Chief Joseph Days Rodeo for donating each year to ensure that every woman in Wallowa County can obtain a mammogram, regardless of ability to pay.

Donations via the Healthy Futures Dinner Auction helped the hospital to purchase a state-of-the-art ultrasound machine as well.

“We had a lot going on in 2018,” Davy said.

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