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Cuts expected at hospital because of budget crunch

CLAREMORE, Okla. (AP) -- About 20 positions at Claremore Indian Hospital may be cut because of budget woes facing the hospital that serves thousands of people in northeastern Oklahoma.

Hospital officials are trying to decide how to manage operations for the rest of the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, with an anticipated $1.4 million deficit.

The annual hospital budget is $30 million, including contract service. The annual salary budget is $12 million.

"We've been on a flat budget for many years and are already doing a lot of things -- cutting back on purchases, travel and training, line item cuts," said John Daugherty Jr., service unit director.

The Claremore staff already is down about 33 positions from 18 months ago because of transfers, retirements and decisions not t orenew temporary posts.

"We will be down about 50 from two years ago when cuts are made, but the patient load is the same," Daugherty said. "It will mean longer waits, high cost drugs will not be available. Y2K was costly. We had to replace a lot of equipment, although we did get some help with funding," he said.

The hospital was built in 1977 to serve 36,000. It has about 80,000 users and more than 120,000 registered possible users. There were 151,000 outpatient visits last year.

Daugherty said some of the cuts to be made will be in temporary
positions that will not be extended. He said about 13 will be reductions in force. "Everyone will be from temporary status," he said.

The hospital has a number of temporary positions, which are kept
on a year-to-year basis.

"They come on board knowing this," Daugherty said. "Unfortunately most of them are support staff. They are still critical employees we need to help get the job done."

Daugherty said the hospital opened in the hole and hasn't caught up.

According to the level of funding needed, or how the government gauges what it would take for needs, Claremore Indian Hospital would need an estimated $16 million to fund 60 percent and $40 million to fund 100 percent.

"We are always on an austere budget," Daugherty said. "We can't react to change as quick as the public sector, can't just start handing out pink slips."

The positions and people to leave will be based on a determination from the Oklahoma City area personnel office.

Leaders of the Cherokee and Creek tribes have pledged to help the hospital as well as the W.W. Hastings Indian Hospital in Tahlequah.

Cherokee Principal Chief Chad Smith said Rick Kelley and Melissa McNeil of the tribal health unit have put together a package designed to help deal with deficits at Claremore, W.W. Hastings Indian Hospital in Tahlequah and the tribal clinics.

It is being presented to the tribal council with the goal of creating medical priorities for funding the Cherokee Nation using discretionary funds.

"It would have to be limited to Cherokee people and come from the motor fuel discretionary fund," he said.
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