Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Victoria Fowler
Gazette Reporter 

Whitman Hospital still going strong


February 6, 2020

Whitman Hospital and Medical Center employees 275 people and serves 10,000 within the hospital district.

On Jan. 8, 2020, Astria Regional Medical Center in Yakima announced that it would be closing its doors due to continual financial struggles.

With the recent announcement of ARMC closing, Laurie Gronning, public relations specialist at Whitman Hospital and Medical Center, said it got her and CEO Hank Hanigan thinking that it might be a good time to remind the community of how lucky we are.

"I don't know it's kind of an unsettling time," Hanigan said. "On the more national scale, it's at least once a week there is a hospital shutting down. It goes through a cycle, this happened years ago, then it kind of cooled off for a while and it just seems right now we are just in times of massive closures. It makes us very pleased that we are still doing well up here in little old Colfax."

Hanigan mentioned one message he would want everyone to understand is that WHMC is healthy and running well.

"Even though we have had some very significant change with assuming operations of the former Whitman Medical Group and that's been a challenge," Hanigan said. "We still feel, I think both groups, feel very confident that should allow us to keep care here for a long time. We each had to give up something to get it, but it's by far best for the community. No one is looking back on that one, everyone is looking forward."

WHMC currently employees 275 people. Of this 275, there are 60 registered nurses and two employed physicians Dr. H. Graeme French and Dr. W. Douglas B. Hiller, both orthopedic surgeons, and Kent Fry, a physician assistant, in the orthopedic clinic. Payroll for employed staff comes out to $16.4 million, not counting benefits.

Along with the employed staff, there are 50 physicians that are just on the medical staff, but not employed by WHMC.

"When we talk about having 50 providers on our medical staff, those are physicians that come here to provide clinic and to provide services here on our campus," Gronning said. "For example, we have a cardiologist that comes down from Spokane."

In the ARMC closing in Yakima, a reported problem was the hospital trying to make a profit when Medicare and Medicaid don't pay enough to cover hospital costs. It was stated that 95 percent of the patients at ARMC were on Medicare or Medicaid.

Seventy percent of patients at WHMC are covered with Medicare or Medicaid.

"We really aren't that much different than many of these other hospitals, and I would say Yakima in particular. They may have had a little higher percentage. It would be a lot harder to make it work," Hanigan said. "We are fortunate in that way. Our percentage is not insignificant either. We really depend on what we call our commercial business, to carry us really."

Along with commercial business, Hanigan said the orthopedic business at WHMC is one of the crucial things for the hospital.

"Orthopedics is just key," Hanigan said. "We do about 1,100 procedures a year in our surgical area. I just don't know where we will be and what we would be if we didn't have Dr. French and Dr. Hiller and their dedicated service here."

Hanigan mentioned along with the orthopedic clinic, other businesses in the area are vital to the hospital. He said Tick Klock Drug, Whitman Health and Rehabilitation Center, Palouse River Counseling and volunteer chaplains are very important to the hospital.

One way that hospitals are measured is by days of cash. This is a bottom-line measurement to see if a hospital just stopped business one day with no patients coming in after that day, how long could they survive.

"We would survive for 170 days, and then we would be done," Hanigan said. "One hundred-seventy is actually a really good number compared to other hospitals."

He added that there are a couple of hospitals within our vicinity, about three hours away, that would last only three days and the other approximately 10 days.

Within the WHMC district, towns such as Colfax, St. John, Endicott and LaCrosse are specific to the district boundaries and stretches down to Hay and Hooper.

"Those are the areas of the hospital that we serve," Gronning said. "Of course, we do have people that come from outside our district, but when we talk about who we focus on, those are our district."

WHMC serves roughly 10,000 people within the district.

In December, WHMC started a new unit to provide higher-level care above the Medical-Surgical Units.

This unit is the Progressive Care Unit which specializes in treating medical and surgical patients whose needs aren't serious enough for an Intensive Care Unit, but more than regular inpatient care.

"This allows us to keep them here to reduce the number of transfers to other facilities," Gronning said. "It's the middle ground. It allows us to keep more people here."

Outside of medical services in the hospital, WHMC works with the library to provide classes and discussions to get residents involved.

"We work together to put different things out with education," Gronning said. "Once I start really digging into all these things, I just notice how many things we really do to try to connect with the community and try to hit those hot topics that people really like."

Some services that are offered are Stay Active and Independent for Life, Tai Chi for Health, Move it or Lose it, Eat what you love, love what you eat and exercise classes at the Whitman Hospital aquatic pool―swimmers must have a physician's order to use the pool.

Gronning added they are trying to get out and hold these classes in different locations, not just Colfax.

"We got really good people here. We really appreciate when people look local and especially when we can do a good job," Hanigan said. "We are healthy and strong and all here to take care of you."


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