Guthrie Cortland Medical Center is in a far more stable financial position than when Mark Webster took over as president 5 1/2 years ago, but New York remains a challenging health care market, and Webster said his successor will have to cope with that.
“I don’t see that changing,” Webster said. “The majority of hospitals in New York state lose money from operations.”
It’s a difficult business model, Webster added. “New York state hospitals have the second-lowest profit margins in the United States. That makes it very challenging. Consequently, we don’t have the money to invest in new facilities. And we don’t have enough money to invest in new programs, services and recruit some of the physicians.”
Those financial struggles won’t disappear for the next person leading more than 700 employees — Cortland County’s largest private employer.
For the past two years, the hospital also scored in the 99th percentile for better survival rates in the nation, meaning that survival rates were among the top 1% compared with hospitals dealing with similar diagnoses, Webster said in a hospital newsletter.
“In fact, we’ve ranked among the top 10 hospitals in the state four years in a row,” he wrote. Webster, who has been with the hospital for 5 1/2 years, announced his retirement in March.
“I announced a couple weeks ago that I was going to retire,” Webster said. “A lot of this was driven by the fact that my wife has cancer.”
After working for 38 out of the 40 years he’s been married, Webster felt it was time to slow down and be with his family more.
Webster gave the hospital’s new parent organization, The Guthrie Clinic, and the hospital’s board of trustees five months to find a replacement. “I thought that was ample time,” he said.
One of the things Webster is most proud of in his career is assembling a leadership team at the hospital. “I’m really proud of that because apart from a good leadership team, organizations rise or fall,” he said. That team will continue under the new leadership.
In the 5 1/2 years Webster has been at the hospital, he has seen more service providers added.
“When I first came here, we had about 10 individuals who were employed by the hospital,” he said.
Since then the number has increase to 43 providers.
“We really moved from just a hospital to the beginning of an integrated delivery system,” he said, acting as a hub for health care providers, rather than a single provider. “That’s important because hospitals are transitioning in that fashion.”
Growth at the hospital has also happened under Webster.
Since he began in 2013, the hospital has established a wound care center on Route 281 to treat chronic wounds like those seen through diabetes. “I think we see around 150 patients a year,” he said.
Space was also renovated for endoscopies. A magnetic resonance imaging unit was also brought to the hospital.
The emergency department was also made more efficient. Annually 31,000 patients are seen through the department. Webster said the average length of stay is 90 minutes.
“That’s an incredible statistic, which speaks a lot to the talent of the team and their conviction down there, that we can provide high quality care and do it quickly,” he said.
The new services, providers and changes helped the bottom line, too. The hospital was losing $13 million a year when Webster took over. It lost $10.4 million when it began negotiating with Guthrie — most of that in depreciation and less than $5 million in cash. By 2017, the operating loss was down to $1.6 million on total revenue of $193.5 million, according to the American Hospital Directory. Not quite breaking even, but much closer and trending toward it.
Webster was at the helm of the hospital during its affiliation process with Guthrie. The affiliation was finalized earlier this year.
The hospital’s involvement with the community has also been growing since Webster started. “When I came here, the organization was struggling enough that we just hadn’t reached out,” he said. “We’re a community hospital and I don’t think we can ever sit here and be content with whatever goes on inside our four walls.”
What comes next for Webster is undecided.
“I still feel like I have some gas in my tank,” he said. “I am not a rocking chair, fisherman kind of guy. I believe I’ll do some consulting. I may do some writing. I certainly will do some traveling.”
Webster does know he wants to give back to the community.
“This is an incredible community,” Webster said. “We intend to stay here after I retire. We’re not going to pack up and move to Florida.”