The numbers don't lie. And they are growing every year.
In 2004, McDuffie Regional Medical Center treated 1,000 more patients than in 2003. MRMC CEO Doug Keir sees that increase as more of a trend, and it's one that could be considered both good and bad news in the world of struggling rural hospitals.
And last week, MRMC was diverting patients to other hospitals because an outbreak of influenza and upper respiratory infections had filled its beds. Once again, that could be good or bad news, according to Mr. Keir.
"That depends on the payer base," he said. "It really does depend on what the payer mix is. And as we continue to see Medicare and Medicaid cuts, if we can have more commercially-based insurance payers than we have that percentage of Medicare and Medicaid ... certainly that helps create a positive bottom line for the hospital."
As the number of patients who have no insurance and cannot pay for healthcare continues to cause problems with the hospital's ability to stay afloat, any increase in the percentage of indigent cases could aggravate the hospital's precarious situation.
"We were up significantly in the cost of providing that care which would mean that it could very well have been a higher percentage (of indigent care patients) than what we have seen in the past," Mr. Keir said in reference to the upswing in patients last year.
Since the late 1990s, MRMC has had a similar upswing in patients treated throughout an entire year. Mr. Keir hopes that the 13 percent of indigent patients represented in those numbers does anything but rise.
Aside from the financial concerns presented by a full hospital, Mr. Keir wanted to reiterate that the flu season visitation restrictions were still in effect. They are especially important now, as a late-breaking flu takes off.
On Oct. 19, a flu vaccine shortage sparked the restrictions as a precautionary measure. According to Cindy Prosnak, the hospital's infection control coordinator, no one under 18 is allowed in the waiting rooms or to visit patients, and elderly adults are also discouraged from visiting.
"We'll announce when we lift those," Mr. Keir said. "We thought this was what was going to happen in January, and it just actually hit about three to four weeks later than we anticipated."