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Switch to Solar Could Save Hospital Millions


Great River Medical Center may soon be powered by solar panels, which could save the hospital about $9 million over a 20-year period.

Mississippi County Hospital System CEO Chris Raymer told the hospital board Wednesday that the hospital has joined Mississippi County in entering an assessment agreement with a firm that provides alternative energy.

He pointed out that GRMC currently pays 14 cents per kilowatt hour, but the hospital would lock in a 5 cents per kilowatt hour rate for 20 years by making the move to solar energy.

According to Raymer, the hospital is taking advantage of new state legislation, which Sen. Dave Wallace (R-Leachville) helped form.

Mississippi County Judge John Alan Nelson called Raymer shortly after its passage, with hopes of slashing energy cost in the county.

“(Judge Nelson) did a lot of the ground work for us, so all we really had to do was to give them some forms and releases to look at our energy accounts,” Raymer said. “A lot of that leg work was already done. We’re kind of piggybacking off of them (the county).”

To power GRMC, it will take 22 acres of solar panels.

Raymer noted the third-party company would supply and maintain the equipment and lease the nearby land. The life of the solar panels is about 25 years.

Raymer said the building process could begin as soon as January, and it takes about three months to complete, which means GRMC could be operating on solar power by the spring of 2020.

The company is also assessing Osceola’s South Mississippi County Regional Medical Center.

“Osceola is a little different because it’s a municipality; it’s not an energy company,” Raymer said. “But they still have some requirements. There’s a chance to do some significant savings there, but it’s a little different, and it won’t be near the savings we recoup here just because municipalities aren’t required to play by the same rules as power companies.”

Raymer is excited about the potential savings at Great River Medical Center.

“For us it locks us in at five cents for 20 years,” he added. “That’s (a savings of) more than half of what we pay for power now.”

In other news, Paul Peiffer, COO, reported that the hospital received a $29,035 check from gas provider Black Hills as a reimbursement for upgrades made to the system.

He noted the projected savings over the life of the project — 8-12 years — is $344,000 ($33,057 annually).

“Basically, we got 100 percent reimbursement on the repairs it cost us, and we should get $344,000 worth of savings on the overall project,” Peiffer said.

Other moves lowered SMC’s Osceola Light and Power bill by about $10,000 a year.

Also, Peiffer said the hospital system was selected for the Delta Region Community Health Systems Development Program (DRCHSD), a three-year program with up to $250,000 worth of annual support.

The Delta Regional Authority (DRA), in collaboration with the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), launched the program to enhance healthcare delivery in the Delta Region through intensive technical assistance to providers in select rural communities, including critical access hospitals, small rural hospitals, rural health clinics and other healthcare organizations.

‘They say it is focused on technical assistance, but they said they are pretty flexible on places we can use the backing of what we need,” Peiffer said.

Meanwhile, Raymer noted the hospital system is working on physician recruiting, pointing out that Dr. Yao is retiring in few weeks.

He said orthopedic specialist Dr. Dickson of Jonesboro is interested in having a clinic in Blytheville and plans to visit the site next week to see the space.

Raymer added Dr. Hays, a Jonesboro podiatrist, is interested in coming to Blytheville a couple of days a month for surgeries as well.

In other news, Darren Caldwell, the SVP-Regional Services with St. Bernards, reported on the upcoming Arkansas Hospital Association (AHA) conference.

“Northeast Arkansas is going to be very well-represented,” he said. “There’s going to be some people who receive honors and awards and there will be some recognizable folks around here.”

Caldwell pointed out that St. Bernards is pleased with its relationship with the local hospital system and is willing to provide other services.

“We continue to be thrilled with the relationship we are developing here with Mississippi County,” he said. “We feel like that there has been much increased dialog since we’ve been able to get in this relationship.”

St. Bernards is offering a telemedicine program here.

The Round is a large piece of equipment on wheels that has a life-size computer screen and attachments that will allow a physician to evaluate a patient.

St. Bernards already has this established and the local hospital system is working with it. A team of the physicians will bring the technology to Mississippi County Hospital System. They are in the early stages of implementing the program. 

“We hope that with this new hospitalist model that your census of about 30 continues, because there are a lot of illnesses that can be taken care of here,” Caldwell said. “They don’t need to be shipped out. That’s the ultimate that we’re trying to accomplish with that.”

Mississippi County Hospital System’s patient load has been increasing.

Raymer said, “We’ve had the busiest three months we’ve had since I can remember.”

Also Wednesday, Raymer said the hospital has performed about 750 physicals for area schools since May.

“You hear stuff about schools around here, but I’ve never encountered more respectful kids than the athletes we have here,” Raymer said.

He also thanked Air Evac, which offers free of charge all of the required critical education classes for hospital employees.

In other news, Randy Nichols, CFO, reported that the hospital system is about $1.2 million ahead of where it was at this time last year.

The AP days were at 36 in August and the balance is $1,864,370. Accounts receivable is currently 68 days gross and 47 days net. Nichols reported that the operating cash balance was $1,757,045 in August compared to $1,188,350 in July.

He noted on Aug. 2, the hospital received an IGT payment, which allowed it to purchase a $250,000 CD.