Residents express concerns, frustrations at Thursday’s MRH Board of Trustees meeting

Roughly 50 community members packed Conference Room A and B Thursday night for the public portion of Memorial Regional Health’s Board of Trustees meeting.

In light of the news that broke on Dec. 17, community members poured into the room to express their concerns and frustrations regarding the suspension of the OB/GYN clinic, as well as the financial trouble the hospital currently faces.

Memorial Regional Health’s BOT meeting started out with three executive sessions before the public session opened for comment at 7 p.m.

Ken Wergin was one of the first community members to speak Thursday night.

“I am a concerned citizen that attends a lot of meetings for our area,” Wirgen said. “Our healthcare is our hospital, paid by our taxes, paid by our medical care, our fees, our billing, and yes our troubles with billing. The people served are us – the people sitting here.

“…I, and others, know we’re not here to point fingers and seek revenge, but we do demand the best healthcare possible.”

The concern for many in the room Thursday night was the loss of Dr. Scott Ellis — who is one of the top OB/GYN doctors in the state and carried a 90% satisfactory rate at MRH, according to patient surveys — and the suspension of the OB/GYN clinic.

Kristen Rose and Megan Dowling, both of whom are pregnant, were deeply saddened, frustrated, and scared that they won’t be able to see Dr. Ellis during their pregnancy.

“I’m due on March 1,” Rose said. “Dr. Ellis and his team were a great source of comfort for me and my family during my pregnancy…now I don’t have that. It feels a little frightening to have to drive an hour to Steamboat for proper care.”

“I received 5-star care here from Dr. Ellis,” Dowling said. “…I don’t want to be in labor and have to drive to Steamboat…that’s too dangerous. I want to deliver my baby in Craig, and I want the revenue from delivering my baby to stay in Craig…What about the women coming from Sunbeam, Maybell, Baggs and Meeker? That’s so dangerous for them to travel through Craig to Steamboat.”

BOT chairwoman Cathrine Blevins tried to clear up some confusion regarding the suspension of the OB/GYN clinic, effective Jan. 11, 2020.

“As far as salvaging the OB/GYN clinic, it’s not terminated, it’s just a reset,” Blevins said. “It has always cost us more than we get back. But it has always been the mission of the hospital, and is a critical component of our mission, so we’ve always chosen to try and do the best we can to fund it as long as we can.

“Other communities such as Meeker no longer have an OB department because they can’t afford it,” Blevins added. “This is not something that we plan to continue forever. We started looking into this more than a year ago…it is not our intent to suspend this service forever. Our intent is to bring it back as quickly as we can, but right now we’re not able to do that.”

However, Craig resident Amy Tomlinson questioned the decision to suspend OB/GYN.

“OB closures are difficult and is something that’s happening nationwide, but I do think it’s important that the board makes decisions based on accurate information,” Tomlinson said. “For instance, OB units nationwide lose money. Big hospitals and small hospitals nationwide, OB departments are money losers, and yet they don’t close the doors because they know the service is very important for women.”

Late in the first public session, the mood of the meeting took a turn as tensions rose.

Other community members brought up the correlation between the financial struggles and the opening of new Medical Office Buildings

Chief Executive Officer Andy Daniels attempted to clear up some confusion regarding financial struggles and a possible tie-in to the new clinics built in front of Walmart and in Steamboat Springs.

“There’s lots of decisions that, had we have known at the time what was going to happen, we wouldn’t have made that decision,” Daniels said. “But we didn’t know, we made the best decision possible at the time. A lot of people are saying we built the new offices, which led to our financial issues. That’s not true.

“We didn’t take any money from here (the hospital) and send it over there (the MOB),” Daniels added. “We financed that through the United States Department of Agriculture; we haven’t even closed that loan. That didn’t get us to where we’re at financially…it’s just not true.”

Late in his statement, Daniels addressed the personal attacks and rumors spread on social media, leading to some shouting back and forth between Daniels and some upset community members.

The next MRH Board of Trustees meeting will be Thursday, Jan. 16 in Conference Room A and B, starting at 6 p.m.

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