POMEROY — Leaders who oversee the only hospital in Garfield County are asking the community to throw them a lifeline until they can find a new direction for the financially troubled institution.

Board members of the Garfield County Hospital District have put an $860,0000 levy on the Nov. 5 ballot.

The money would help keep the hospital’s emergency room, clinic and long-term care facility open while they find ways to make the operation sustainable.

The district expects it will lose $800,000 this year for the second consecutive year. It has 88 days of cash on hand, compared with the industry standard of 120 days, said co-CEO Mat Slaybaugh.

“Status quo is not allowed,” said hospital district Chairwoman Cindy Wolf at a community meeting about the levy Wednesday evening.

“We’re all pretty firm we need to make some decisions,” she said, without sharing when the plan will be unveiled.

A number of possibilities are being discussed.

Slaybaugh and co-CEO Jayd Keener are recruiting medical professionals to be on the district’s staff. If they are successful, that could cut costs and bring in more money.

“I can’t stress how important this is to us,” he said. “... We are working hard on this.”

Right now the district has one physician, five nurse practitioners or physicians assistants, three nurses and two certified nursing assistants hired on temporary contracts through third-party agencies.

The contracts are expensive and clinic visits have fallen because of the medical provider turnover.

Another possibility is limiting the number of Medicaid patients in the hospital district’s long-term care beds.

Of the 19 beds being used for long-term care, two are occupied by people on Medicare, four are filled by patients with private insurance and the remaining 13 are used by individuals on Medicaid.

Reimbursement rates for private insurance are typically the most generous, while Medicaid usually pays the least.

Such an approach could backfire if hospital district employees turned away relatives of Garfield County families, who support the facility with their taxes, Slaybaugh said.

Yet another strategy could be cutting back services, but that could be complicated too.

One of the hospital’s biggest expenses is its emergency room, which is open around the clock, and averages less than two patients per day.

At a minimum, it has to be staffed with either a physician, nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant, as well as a nurse, nursing assistant, laboratory technician and X-ray technician.

But if the district closed its emergency room, it would lose its federal classification as a critical access hospital, which allows it to get higher Medicare reimbursements.

Regardless which strategy the district chooses, Washington state Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, recommended that Garfield County residents back the levy as a first step.

If they’re not willing to spend their own money on the hospital, he said, it will be harder to get support at the state level from other legislators, especially those from western Washington who don’t necessarily understand the challenges of rural communities.

Williams may be contacted at ewilliam@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2261.

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