TMH officials explain need for new hospital

A discussion between The Memorial Hospital (TMH) Board of Trustees and Moffat County Board of Commissioners left the idea of a new hospital in limbo.

TMH Administrator Randy Phelps explained the need for a hospital overhaul.

According to Phelps, the new patient care area is now 20 years old and not considered modern by consumers. Certain safety codes are also a concern. Phelps stressed the hospital was not breaking any codes, but systems such as fire protection and fire alarms are not up to 1999 standards. The heating, ventilation and air conditioning system (HVAC) and the Americans with Disabilities Act are also problem areas with respect to safety codes, and pathology air handling ducts do not meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards for air circulation and exhaust.

The number one concern for employees is parking. According to Phelps, parking is a huge problem and TMH is not in the best location for peak business.

"Health care consumers expect convenience and we are not set up for convenience," Phelps said.

The hospital has three options in terms of hospital improvement. Officials can remodel, replace or do nothing.

According to Phelps, remodeling and correcting code problems in the hospital would cost about $8 million. A new facility built from the ground up would cost between $9.3 million and $9.8 million, exclusive of land and equipment.

Doing nothing would leave no hospital in Craig in 20 years, according to Phelps.

Hospitals benefit the welfare of rural communities. TMH and health care are economic engines in Northwest Colorado, generating at least $20 million annually.

In terms of building or remodeling a new facility, TMH has $5 million in credit worthiness, meaning they have access to those funds. Other ways of obtaining necessary funds include revenue bonds, direct subsidies and taxes.

According to Phelps, more than 30 percent of the population in the community would support a tax to remodel or build a new facility while 16 percent are strongly opposed.

The loss of hospital revenue due to Medicare and the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 is playing against TMH and its hopes for a new facility, according to Phelps. Clinton's year 2000 budget is calling for another $10 billion reduction in health care. According to Phelps, this will have a "disproportionate impact on rural providers."

County commissioners want to see more revenue generated from non-Medicare sources before a move is made for a new facility.

They also want to see more detail of the new scope of the remodeling project of the facility. Citing issues surrounding the construction of the current Moffat County High School, commissioners want the public to be more educated about a new hospital before a vote is cast.

Phelps' next step will be to provide more detail of the potential projects to commissioners and visit with hospital board members to develop strategies. The board also wants to begin educating the community on possible issues.

A big issue arising when it comes to the local economy is the possible downsizing of employees at coal mines. According to Commissioner T. Wright Dickinson, about 78 cents of each dollar in Craig comes from mining or related businesses. Officials believe any future developments are dependent on the activity at the mines. If a mine were to downsize or be sold, the possibility of improving the health care industry would fall to the wayside.

It was also stated that Moffat County could lose 50 percent of its tax base due to the deregulation of electricity.

Commissioners are not against the idea of a new hospital or renovating the existing facility, but said they want to see more hard facts regarding possible projects.

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