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Modesto Hospital Chief, Expert at Turning Profit, to Head Health Agency

October 08, 1987|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

A health-care executive who turned around a flagging Modesto hospital has been appointed director of the fiscally strapped Ventura County Health Care Agency.

Phillipp K. Wessels, 47, the former administrator of Modesto's Scenic General Hospital, is expected to start Nov. 9. He succeeds Dr. Sarah L. Miller, who retired from the county in July and is now deputy director of Santa Barbara County's health-care services.

As director, Wessels will preside over the Ventura County Medical Center, six outlying clinics, two mental-health-care facilities, a drug and alcohol program and the county coroner's office. The Ventura County Health Care Agency employs about 1,200 persons and has a $73-million annual budget, said Pierre Durand, the agency's director of finance.

Billing Problems

Wessels takes over an agency plagued in the past year by mismanagement, funding problems, employee layoffs and billing that fell 18 months behind. This summer, the county was forced to bail out the agency with a one-time $6-million payment scrounged from reserves and countywide budget cuts. That money isn't available next year, say county officials, who add that the agency will either have to prune operating costs or cut some services and possibly close some clinics.

No services have been eliminated so far, although the medical center has trimmed its beds from about 175 to 110, Durand said. The agency also cut back hours at outpatient mental facilities.

Wessels said he would focus on making the Ventura agency more efficient and productive, although, "it's hard to tell at this stage what is needed."

In Modesto, Wessels said, he expanded outpatient clinic hours to include evenings and weekends, then began routing emergency-room patients who didn't need critical care to the clinics, cutting emergency room use 40%.

Turned a Profit

Ventura County officials said they were impressed by Wessels' record at Scenic General. When he began there in 1982, the hospital was operating at a $3.9-million deficit.

For the fiscal year 1986-87, the hospital had a balance of more than $1 million, said Richard Wittenberg, Ventura County's chief administrative officer.

Wessels also set up an indigent care program and a preferred medical plan for Stanislaus County employees, Wittenberg said.

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