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'It takes time to turn the ship': Billings Clinic CEO addresses budget shortfall progress

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Posted at 5:51 PM, May 15, 2023

BILLINGS – Two months after news broke that Billings Clinic was undertaking a plan to curb a $4.5 million a month shortfall, newly named CEO Clint Seger is addressing it.

Back in April, Montana’s largest hospital sent an internal memo from Seger to all employees outlining cutback plans, including a company-wide hiring freeze, halting all capital projects, and pay cuts for doctors and hospital executives.

Seger told MTN News Monday afternoon that the plan to “right the ship” is slowly working.

“Billings Clinic is a big organization, and it takes time to turn the ship,” said Seger.

Seger also announced Monday that he’s been named the permanent chief executive officer of Billings Clinic. He was previously in the role on an interim basis.

He has refrained from speaking publicly about the budget cuts after the memo was leaked by an employee who at the time asked to remain anonymous.

Seger is not refuting that the healthcare industry, in general, remains in a financial strain.

“We have been working diligently to make appropriate changes, whether it be decreasing the contract labor or addressing some of the costs we have,” he said.

Seger puts it all into perspective, explaining the state of the hospital and its culture are amplified by financial worries and the state of the healthcare industry.

“I will say, the culture and some of the challenges in health care across the country— right now, it’s a tough time,” he said.

Seger says it’s also because the price of doing healthcare is rising exponentially.

“Traveling nurses, traveling tech positions,” he said. “I think the rate of those are 50 percent higher than what they were back in 2019.”

But Seger says so far, cutbacks to get the budget back on track are working.

“As we make some of the operational changes, we are seeing a shift for the better,” he said. “For the month of April, we saw about a $1.5 million shift for the better.”

The financial problems have put into question a merger with Kalispell’s Logan Health and the hospital’s mission to be Montana’s first level-one trauma center.

Seger was specially asked why the hospital has taken so long to address the criticism around the optics of building and expanding while also trying to shore up the budget.

“We’ve been addressing this with our staff and our employees for months,” he said. “We’ve been pretty transparent with the organization where we are.”

However, the public and Billings Clinic’s patients remained in the dark until now.

“From a patient-care standpoint, I will say that the challenge here, is to always stay focused on the patient care. High quality and not impact the patient care but still be mindful of the cost. That’s a balance,” he said.

 Seger admits there’s been some transition in the workforce when it comes to the financial news breaking, but he says that’s also on par for the industry.

“I think we do a really good job still as an organization. We received CMS five stars this year,” he said. “We keep the focus of patient care and safety that is the forefront of everyone’s minds that works at Billings Clinic.

He says, Billings Clinic is not alone among hospitals nationwide also trying to maneuver an uncertain financial future.

“Billings Clinic is a good organization. Nobody is perfect, and if there are things that we have not done the best, I would hope that patients would tell us,” He said.

Still, all the while Seger says patient access is his top concern, something he vowed back in August as he took over as interim CEO.

Watch Seger's full interview below:

Full interview: Billings Clinic CEO Clint Seger