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October 16, 2023 / 2023 Power 25 Health Care

2023 Power 25 Health Care: Kurt Barwis

Kurt Barwis

Another one of the few independent hospitals remaining in Connecticut is Bristol Hospital, led by Kurt Barwis, who has been CEO for the past 17 years.

The parent company, Bristol Health, which Barwis also oversees, includes the 164-bed Bristol Hospital in addition to a medical group, long-term care facility and home and hospice care services.

The past few years haven’t been easy for the hospital, which was hit hard by the pandemic.

Bristol Health has been working with consultants throughout this year to get advice on how to turn around its struggling financial position.

The health system at the end of its 2022 fiscal year violated a financial covenant tied to a $34.6 million bond offering it was issued in 2019. Those funds helped finance a major renovation and expansion of the hospital’s emergency department, in addition to refinancing older debt.

The September 2022 covenant violation was a result of the health system not having enough days of cash on hand to satisfy a bondholder’s agreement. That forced Bristol Health to negotiate a default waiver with bondholders, which was granted, and to hire an outside financial consultant.

The covenant violation followed several years of financial struggles for Bristol Health, which reported a $16.5 million operating loss in fiscal 2022.

Connecticut’s hospital industry in general has faced headwinds coming out of the pandemic, including dramatically rising costs, workforce shortages and a sicker patient population.

Barwis, in a July interview with the Hartford Business Journal, expressed confidence his health network will successfully make it through its current financial challenges.

However, a future merger with another healthcare system isn’t off the table, he said.

Short term, Bristol Health is focused on implementing the consultants’ recommendations, Barwis said. One recommendation was an evaluation of the health system’s efficiency with scheduling patients and doctors. The network is also looking at improving its billing and collection processes and evaluating its labor force needs.

“We are going to right this ship,” Barwis said. “When you get in this situation, you want as many ideas as are available to come forward, so you can pick and choose the ones that give you the fastest return. We obviously aren’t in a position to dilly-dally.”

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