Dear Editor,

We are at a serious crossroads, even a crisis, in health care service provision for our community.  And this is a situation that has been building for some time.  Right now, Teton Medical Center is struggling to just meet payroll and must secure additional bank loans; Teton Nursing Home has low census forcing Commissioners to ask for an additional mill levy and direct other public funding to the facility.  Many of our businesses in the county depend on health care services, particularly hospital services.  Skyline Lodge, Beehive, Choteau Activities, ambulance, other care facilities – to name a few.  We all recognize the importance of stable, consistent health care for our citizens and for our economy. 

Understanding the need for good health care options, the Commissioners and Hospital Board recently asked an outside expert to recommend how best to move forward and retain adequate services in the community.  The expert recommended a model – a 25 bed Critical Access Hospital - which would benefit both facilities, but, he emphasized, the success of the proposal depends ultimately on cooperation and a reallocation of funding and patients.

An important piece of the proposed model is public funding. Right now, the hospital receives about $60,000 in public support annually from 6 mills.  Teton Nursing Home receives about $300,000 annually in public support from 10 mills and a supplemental health insurance transfer.   What is the best way to allocate this funding?  Next, where can the institutions make the most of federal and state reimbursements?  A 25 bed Critical Access Hospital is the proposed model. Finally, how do we as a community most efficiently provide needed services?   We have a proposal, but our leaders must cooperate to implement the change.

So where is this cooperation and effort to adopt a new model?  The Hospital Board is actively pursuing a balance in funding and patient services.  The County Commissioners appear reluctant to commit to this redistribution of funding and services.  We need a true partnership, but it seems elusive.

This crossroads in health care didn’t happen overnight.  Over the past ten years, much has changed in health care –  the Great Falls Clinic exit, a decline in nursing home needs,  reimbursement changes, health insurance issues, retention of health care providers.  The list goes on. But we have reached a crisis point.  The time has come to literally “bite the bullet” and tackle challenges head on, together.  So, Commissioners and Hospital Board,  what is your next move?  Our community health depends on you.

Sincerely,

Mary Sexton