Financial Woes Force Woodlawn Hospital to Close

From the Knight Ridder Tribune Business News [Washington], January 15, 2004

Woodland Park Hospital, a fixture on Portland’s eastside for more than 40 years, is closing, at least temporarily.

The 202-bed hospital’s deteriorating financial condition is forcing the closure, said Ken Perry, chief executive officer of Symphony Healthcare, owner of both Woodland Park and Eastmoreland Hospital in Southeast Portland. Woodland Park lost significant money in 2003, due in part to write-offs for indigent care, Perry said.

What the closure means for Woodland Park’s 250 employees is unclear, though it’s clear some expect to be laid off.

Gyan Singh, 62, a Woodland Park food service employee, said she learned of the hospital’s pending shutdown late in the day, and her supervisor told her she would need to find another job.

“It’s scary and very, very sad,” Singh said.

It’s also unclear exactly when Woodland Park is closing as it first has to discharge or transfer an undisclosed number of patients.

Woodland Park’s closure also calls into question the fate of its sister hospital, Eastmoreland.

“At this point, I don’t know what it means for Eastmoreland,” said Jeff Egbert, a senior administrator at the hospital. “As far as I know, I’m coming to work here tomorrow, and so are my employees.”

Perry said there are no immediate plans to close Eastmoreland. He said he continues to negotiate with two groups seeking to buy the hospitals.

Some workers at both Woodland Park and Eastmoreland suspected their employers were in financial straits. Woodland Park paychecks to some of its employees bounced in recent weeks because of insufficient funds in the hospital’s bank account. Some Eastmoreland paychecks dated Jan. 2 also bounced.

The hospitals later made good with replacement paychecks. Perry would not explain the bounced checks other than to say Symphony has “made every effort to get these people paid.”

Some creditors claim they haven’t been paid for work they’ve done at Woodland Park or Eastmoreland. EC Co., a Portland electrical contractor, is one of several companies to sue Symphony Healthcare this fall seeking payment of unpaid bills.

Perry founded Symphony in March 2002 in Nashville, Tenn. In the same month, the company bought Woodland Park and Eastmoreland.

Both hospitals were profitable in 2002. But 2003, according to Perry, was a much different story.

State budget cuts forced the Oregon Health Plan to significantly tighten its eligibility requirements last year. As a result, some previously covered patients were no longer insured. For Woodland Park and Eastmoreland, the changes were devastating.

Perry said Woodland Park’s patient charges that went unpaid more than doubled in 2003. The hospital wrote off about $6 million in indigent and charitable care that year, up from between $2.5 million and $3 million in 2002.

Woodland Park’s closure may put the local mental health community in a bind. It operates an inpatient psychiatric unit that is one of a handful contracting with the state and counties to accept psychiatric patients.

Woodland Park’s psychiatric unit has come under fire at times, most recently in September, when state regulators temporarily suspended its license to accept new patients.

State mental health officials acted after a 300-pound patient twice crashed through a locked door and fled the psychiatric unit. They restored Woodland Park’s license days later.