Jackson Health System administrators delivered some positive news on Monday: They project that Miami-Dade’s public hospital network will close the year ending Sept. 30 with an estimated $40 million budget surplus — a solid improvement over the preceding year, but not a sign that the taxpayer-owned system has conquered all of its financial troubles.
Jackson’s surplus comes on the strength of rigid cost control, more efficient operations — such as improved collections, faster payments of bills, more productive staffing levels and aggressive screening of uninsured patients for Medicaid eligibility — and better-than-expected revenues from public sources, including Miami-Dade property and sales taxes.
Mark Knight, chief financial officer for Jackson, reported that the hospital system also will end the fiscal year with about 25 days of cash on hand — an improvement over the 13 days of cash on hand reported at the close of the preceding year, but still well below the benchmark of 175 days of cash that financially successful hospitals are supposed to have.
And the hospital system is still struggling to improve in other areas of the budget. Net patient revenue for the 11 months ending August 31 fell short of projections by about 1.3 percent or $12 million, while salaries and related costs for the system’s estimated 10,000 employees continue to exceed budget forecasts by about 5 percent or $37 million for the same period.
Still, Jackson and its taxpayer owners have reason to be optimistic about the hospital system’s future, said Chief Executive Carlos Migoya.
“This is ... an exciting time financially for Jackson,’’ Migoya said at Monday’s meeting of the Public Health Trust that runs Jackson. “We set an ambitious goal for ourselves, pushing for a surplus of more than $35 million. Just a couple of years ago, Jackson would have been happy with just losing $35 million a year.”
Indeed, Jackson’s current budget performance represents a significant turnaround from spring 2011, when Jackson was close to financial collapse, having lost $419 million over three years.
More than one year later, though, Jackson showed an $8.2 million surplus for its fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2012, according to an audit released in March.
The financial turnaround has continued, and Migoya noted the importance of meeting short-term financial goals in order to project public confidence in the hospital system.
Migoya has spent the past few weeks speaking to civic groups and local media about the hospital system’s need for $830 million in improvements to be paid for with a property tax hike.
Miami-Dade voters will decide in November whether to approve a bond referendum to pay for the improvements to Jackson’s aging buildings and infrastructure, including patient rooms and new facilities that are expected to make the system more competitive with local hospitals.
“Not only are we raising the funds to fuel our short term goals,’’ Migoya said on Monday, “we’re raising the confidence to fuel our long-term success in this community. That kind of confidence is going to be crucial heading into this bond campaign.’’