The Memorial Hospital has definite plans for its newest physician now that talks to lease office space from the Craig Medical Center have ended.
Moffat County residents may begin making appointments today with Dr. Andy Hughes, a family practitioner, in advance of his office's opening Monday at the TMH MRI Center at 651 Yampa Ave.
The hospital's plan for Hughes came after negotiations with the Medical Center fell through Friday. Before that, the two parties had a verbal agreement for TMH to lease the clinic's main floor for three years.
Dr. Thomas Told, a longtime Craig resident and physician, operated the Medical Center for about 30 years until late last year.
Mollie Told, Thomas' wife and acting Medical Center administrator, said last week clinic officials closed lease talks with TMH because of financial reasons. The hospital did not offer a "fair price" for the space, she said, particularly because TMH also wanted use of all the clinic's equipment and supplies.
Mollie also said she was frustrated that hospital officials backed out of a prior verbal agreement to purchase her husband's practice, including its patient records and equipment.
However, word of any agreement to purchase anything related to the Medical Center caught hospital officials by surprise, said Samantha Johnston, TMH service excellence officer.
Hospital officials made two agreements, she said. One was a verbal commitment to lease some of the clinic's space and the other a signed confidentiality contract that covered negotiations.
"We were always open to discuss all of the options, but we never made any promises to buy anything," Johnston said.
Hospital officials always thought that purchasing downtown office space or a local medical practice would interfere with future plans to build clinical offices next to the new hospital, Johnston said.
Given that, any deal to buy the Medical Clinic would be unlikely.
"If we were going to sink money into real estate, we would sink money into land at the (new) hospital site," she said.
Mollie could not be reached Monday to respond to Johnston's comments.
Johnston said hospital officials regret they couldn't broker a deal with the Medical Center that would make it easier for the clinic's estimated 2,500 patients. However, the hospital's duty is to be a partner in providing the area with doctors and quality health care, not to ensure that private businesses remain open.
Johnston added that TMH partnered with the Medical Center to help recruit a new doctor who could take over the existing practice, but that didn't work out. The hospital also offers to pay a signing bonus to any new doctors hired by other clinics in Moffat County.
"The Tolds' business is the Tolds' business just like any other business," Johnston said. "In the end, the real responsibility we feel is to bring additional doctors to the area."
Officials recognize that Hughes cannot meet the entire community's health care needs, Johnston said.
"Right now, we're doing everything we can financially afford to help the community recruit doctors," she said. "Right now, we look at it like we can't afford not to."
The MRI Center, which will be renamed TMH Medical Clinic, will become the home of the hospital's new doctors.
Johnston said TMH interviewed another family doctor earlier this year, and officials expect him to make a decision about moving to Moffat County by early March.
In the meantime, getting Hughes started is priority No. 1.
"Our biggest goal is to move forward quickly to provide this community with what we promised it," Johnston said. "To bring a new family doctor to the area as soon as possible."
Two physician assistants also will help Hughes see patients - Neilene Folks, a longtime county resident, and Cinde Porter, who recently moved to Craig with her husband.
Hughes' office will accept all patients and all insurance types.
All residents will be registered as new patients because of Medicare requirements, Johnston said. People should expect to pay new patient fees, which they would with any new physician, that cover the additional time Hughes will spend with each patient discussing their medical history.
Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or firstname.lastname@example.org