By Louie King, President
Benefis Teton Medical Center
It has been a busy and successful two years since Teton Medical Center (TMC) became Benefis Teton Medical Center (BTMC) in May of 2015. Joining Benefis has brought many positive changes for our local hospital and community.
During low-cash periods, being a part of Benefis ensures that we will have stable cash flow to continue our operations. We all can sleep better knowing that bills will be paid, jobs protected, and the hospital doors will stay open.
Another positive financial outcome is that the community no longer has any hospital related property taxes. Teton County Memorial Hospital District will dissolve in the next year or two after a group of final audits has been completed by the State of Montana. When the Hospital District does dissolve, it will have surplus funds that can be put back into the community.
Financial stability also means wage stability. BTMC employees have received a three percent raise each July. In the past, TMC employees received only a one percent raise in good years. Additionally, BTMC employees’ share of their health insurance costs has been cut in half, a hefty raise in itself. Employees have access to tuition reimbursement and large education scholarships for those looking to earn advanced degrees and enhance their skills.
Still a challenge is the nationwide nursing shortage that is making it difficult to recruit nurses to rural areas. BTMC is no exception, and we’re trying new ways to recruit employees. To bolster our recruitment and retention, we now have an incentive that offers nurses additional pay for working extra shifts and night shifts. As part of Benefis, we are also able to offer sign-on bonuses to both new hires and the people who refer them.
BTMC started its first Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) School on June 5 here in Choteau to help local youth learn skills, give them a summer job at BTMC, and help them build their resumes for future healthcare jobs and careers. BTMC has scholarships available to help local high school students. Ten students from Fairfield, Choteau, Power, and Augusta are participating in our summer CNA certification school.
With the help of Benefis Health System Foundation and BTMC Foundation, we have been able to improve BTMC’s diagnostic capabilities and the quality of care we provide. A state-of-the-art 16-slice CT scanner was installed in 2016 and is crucial to providing better outcomes for our patients. It has also saved many community members a trip to Great Falls. In the first five months of 2017 we’ve conducted 95 CT scans.
When our old telemetry equipment finally failed in February 2017, BHS Foundation and BTMC Foundation bought a new state-of-the-art system for BTMC. The new telemetry system monitors patients’ vital signs constantly and relays them to the nursing station and the emergency room for real-time review by our providers and nursing staff.
Since joining Benefis, every department has seen equipment improvements. All staff has received new computers and printers and an entirely new phone system has been installed throughout the building. We’ve also purchased a high volume color printer and two large screen TVs. The TVs are tied to our REACH telemedicine system that allows us and the public to remotely attend conferences, seminars, and telemedicine consultations. Even our dietary department has received much needed equipment upgrades.
In the coming months, the State of Montana and the Federal Government are requiring a major upgrade to our “trauma designated” emergency room. Two locked doors will be installed in the ER hallway for patient privacy and better patient and staff security. This means that traffic will flow differently, bypassing the ER hallway. Once the security doors are in place, visitors will travel through the main entrance doors when visiting patients and residents.
BTMC will be converting into a 25-bed Critical Access Hospital (CAH) in the near future. On the patient service side, this change will not affect our quality of care. Long-term care needs continue to decline in Montana and nationwide, and the majority of rural critical access hospitals in Montana have already converted to this 25-bed CAH model. Over the last year, BTMC’s resident numbers have also been declining. Today BTMC houses 26 residents, down from 37 just after the Teton County Nursing home closed in May 2016. Although we are converting to a 25-bed CAH, no services inside the hospital will change with this conversion. Residents will continue to have private rooms and receive excellent local nursing care.
The 25-bed CAH model will ease BTMC’s staff shortages, including shortages among nurses and CNAs who provide direct care to our patients. A stable local staff is vital to protecting BTMC’s high quality health services, from excellent resident care to our 24/7 ER.
I hope this update on BTMC has been helpful to you. We strive to bring the best patient care possible to Teton County, in all areas of medical need. If you have questions, we are here to help answer them.