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Lewis County may borrow $3 million for hospital computer upgrade

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County legislators will be asked to borrow up to $3 million to upgrade the information management system at their municipal hospital.

Bonding for the project, with payments to be covered primarily by ongoing federal funding, was approved Wednesday by the Lewis County General Hospital board of managers, but legislators still must sign off at their meeting Tuesday.

“We can’t meet the standards with our current system,” Dr. Catherine L. Williams, Lewis County General Hospital’s medical director, told hospital managers.

Plans are to take out a five-year bond for the project, although it likely will be combined with a 25-year, $1.6 million loan that funded the Beaver Falls clinic project a couple of years ago, according to Jeffery W. Hellinger, interim chief financial officer. That would result in an 11-year payback for both projects, he said.

Much of the computer project is to be covered with meaningful use money, or federal stimulus funding earmarked for health care information improvements, hospital officials have said.

Staffers throughout the county-owned facility for much of the past year have been working on a conversion to the latest information management system — Meditech 6.0 — from an earlier Meditech system.

Legislator Philip C. Hathway, R-Harrisville, chairman of the legislative Hospital Committee and a board of managers member, noted meaningful use money the hospital received last year was used to help cover a financial shortfall and expressed concern the practice may continue.

Ongoing initiatives at the hospital, including seeking critical-access designation, are expected to eliminate the facility’s budget gap, allowing further meaningful use money to be directed toward the computer project, Mr. Hellinger said.

“If we don’t improve the system, we’re not going to get the meaningful use money,” said Michael F. Young, vice president of the board of managers.

Mr. Hathway joked he would support the measure as long as Mr. Young, a local attorney, would guarantee the project financially.

Some hospital board members also asked for an update on the project, including its financial aspect, at a future meeting.

Robert S. Uttendorfsky, the hospital’s director of information systems, gave a presentation on the project in November.

To receive the federal funding, the facility underwent a 90-day demonstration period to show proficiency in using electronic systems and will continue to be tested over the next few years to remain eligible, Mr. Uttendorfsky said. The new system is tentatively scheduled to go live in late October.

The upgrade is expected to help increase productivity, improve coding for maximum Medicare, Medicaid and insurance reimbursement and, eventually, allow for new features such as patient portals, which would allow people password-protected access to test results and other medical records, hospital officials said.

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