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Surgery patients at Fallston General Hospital probably don't worry what kind of basins their doctors and nurses use to hold sponges or fluids during operations.

But by switching from plastic basins to the stainless steel basins of old, Fallston General will be saving money, something FGH administrators say is a high priority these days.

Pat Young, a nurse who manages the operating and recovery rooms at Fallston General, said, "I know it sounds dumb that such a simple switch would pay off, but stainless steel basins can be washed and re-sterilized. Plastic basins get used once and are thrown away. It's like buying a new coffee cup every day."

"When I first came into nursing 25 years ago, we had a lot of reusable items, but then we went to disposable products. Yes, they're convenient, but they're costly, and guess what they do to our environment?"

The basin switch is just one result of a month-old program at the hospital aimed at cutting expenses, said Kim Lovett, director of public relations.

She said there is no specific goal for savings; the new program is just a redoubled effort to get the best-quality supplies at the lowest cost.

Lovett said it's hard to predict just how this will affect hospital stay rates because in Maryland rates are set by the Health Services Cost Review Commission.

"But if we keep our costs down, it means theinflationary rate increases we'll need to ask for will be lower," said Lovett.

The hospital has been trying to lower costs since 1986,when it was ranked as the third most expensive hospital in the stateby the Health Services Cost Review Commission, Lovett said.

In its most recent cost analysis, the commission listed Fallston General 32nd among the state's 52 acute-care facilities.

"But we don't wantpeople to think they'll be getting products of a lesser quality whenthey're in the hospital. They'll be getting the same quality. We're just looking to see if we can buy quality products at lower prices."

For example, the hospital pharmacy has found ways to cut costs by recommending that doctors prescribe less expensive drugs, if they'll do the same job as a more expensive brand in treating an illness, said Thomas Evans, director of pharmacy.

By switching 30 percent of the hospital's usual order for Unasyn, a patented name-brand antibiotic, to an antibiotic called Cefazolin that also is available in generic form, the hospital pharmacy will save $6,000, Evans said.

"Some illnesses can be treated with Cefazolin just as effectively," said Evans. "But there will still be some occasions when Unasyn is the best choice. We'll just be ordering less of it."

Sometimes, though, savings are just a simple matter of comparison shopping, said Young, whonow is buying a different brand of skin staples -- used instead of sutures to hold outer skin layers together after surgery. The staples are the same as what the hospital had been buying, but by purchasing them from a different company, Young's department will save $50,000 this year.

"A lot of people are brand-name shoppers -- they go to Hecht's or Macy's. But in a recession they shop at K mart and Ames, and buy the same things for less. People are looking for better ways tospend their money. Hospitals are, too," said Young. "Some suppliers used to have monopolies. Now we can comparison shop."

Comparison shopping is part of a new trend in hospital purchasing, said Brian Wallen, vice president for communications at the Maryland Hospital Association.

"Manufacturers used to have monopolies; now more companiesare competing," said Wallen. "We also operate a group purchasing program that gives hospitals, including Fallston General, the power of group purchasing and exposure to national level discounts on drugs andmedication."

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