Tiny bugs bite into WhidbeyHealth budget

But it still came out $1.3 million ahead for 2017

A tiny bug helped bite a big hole in the budget of WhidbeyHealth the last month of 2017.

CEO Geri Forbes called December a “very rough month” as she reviewed finances at a recent meeting of the Whidbey Island Public Hospital District Board of Commissioners.

Fewer patients in clinics and “an environmental issue” in the hospital’s operating rooms led to a loss of $200,000 in December, Forbes said. However, the system had a surplus of $1.3 million in revenue overall for 2017, she added.

“We had a strong year,” she said. “We’ve minimized waste and we’ve done an excellent job staffing.”

In early December, operating room staff reported the sudden appearance of tiny bugs flying around the operating suite, which is comprised of four operating rooms.

The bugs, identified as sphaerocerid flies, apparently hatched before the source of the infestation could be detected. Surgeries were postponed or canceled from Dec. 4-8.

In an interview, Forbes explained that during December’s cold spell, small flies burrowed in from the outside on the operating suites’ roof and got into the plumic layer, which is the layer between the roof and the ceiling.

“The weather got cold and they were attracted to the heat and light,” she said. “Once inside, they began hatching in every possible port of entry.”

“It is a nuisance issue found in hospitals and restaurants,” she said. “The problem is now resolved.”

The hospital consulted university entomology departments and called in pest control.

Patients were informed of the infestation and given a choice to postpone operations.

Only two critical surgeries went ahead as scheduled, said George Senerth, executive director of facilities.

“We shut everything down. This sphaerocerid fly, they could be coming in from vegetation on beaches or farms or chicken coops,” Senerth said.

Infestations of operating rooms have occurred in other states over the years; England is now fighting off maggots, cockroaches and rats at some of its hospitals.

Revenue lost from an idle operating room at WhidbeyHealth Medical Center was compounded by the fact that its staff still had to be paid.

How the system fared financially in 2017 still needs additional review before final figures are revealed, Forbes said.

Ron Telles, chief operating officer, said “it’s looking good for the year.”

“We made close to $1.3 million and that’s outstanding,” Telles said in an interview. “Anytime you’re in the black in health care, that’s a good year.”

Clinic visits dropped in December, which perplexed the administration. In previous years, clinic visits increased during December’s flu and cold season.

“But in January, our surgeries were busy, the emergency department was busy and the clinics were busy,” Telles said.

“In fact, visits to clinics are exceeding our expectations.”

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