POMEROY — The only hospital in Garfield County will be out of money by September 2021 if its revenue and expenses stay the same.
That analysis was shared by Garfield County Hospital District Co-CEO Mat Slaybaugh at a Monday meeting where the board overseeing the facility began to weigh options in the aftermath of its $860,000 levy failing.
Exactly what strategy the board will adapt to prevent the hospital from depleting its funds is not clear.
The board might examine replacing its emergency room with urgent care and then continuing services such as its clinic, long-term care for seniors and its laboratory, said Co-CEO Jayd Keener.
But if the board took that approach, it would lose its federal designation as a critical access hospital, unless it could convince regulators to grant an exception.
“It’s truly us paving a path,” Keener said.
The designation gives rural hospitals better reimbursement rates for Medicare patients, but requires a 24-hour emergency room.
The emergency room is one of the biggest expenses the hospital has. At a minimum, it has to be staffed with a physician, physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner as well as a nurse, nursing assistant, laboratory technician and X-ray technician.
But more than one person at the meeting warned that eliminating the emergency room could create new problems, including the deaths of patients who would have survived had they had access to emergency care in Pomeroy.
Based on one study that looked at patient outcomes and the distance to emergency rooms, the mortality rate in Garfield County could increase as much as 25 percent if the emergency room closed, Slaybaugh said.
Plus, Pomeroy area residents will likely discover that hiring paramedics to work in Garfield County is as difficult as recruiting physicians, physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners to the sparsely populated area, said Wynne McCabe, a Garfield County commissioner.
Paramedics want to be exposed to a variety of cases so they can advance in their careers, not have one patient every two days, said McCabe, who coordinated paramedics in Garfield County for about 30 years.
And even if the hospital went to a dramatically scaled-back model, it would still need to run levies to subsidize operations, Keener said.
The board made no decision Monday about if or when it might seek another levy and how much it might be.
That discussion will likely happen at a meeting next month, board members said.
In the short term, the board is also looking at a number of other possibilities. Its leaders plan to seek suggestions from the top administrator at the hospital in Dayton.
They will also continue to try to find two nurse practitioners or physician’s assistants to help staff its emergency room and save between $125,000 and $150,000 per year. But that initiative has been hampered by the failure of the levy, which could make potential candidates skeptical of the community’s support for the hospital.
Those duties are presently being handled by providers who work on temporary expensive contracts through third-party agencies.
The hospital district might also be able to win a grant from a $400,000 pool of state money for technology that has been earmarked for the 13 hospitals in Washington that are believed to be at risk of closing. The Pomeroy hospital is among those eligible to apply for some of those funds.
“We need to get some of these things we talked about in place and working as soon as possible,” said hospital district Chairwoman Cindy Wolf.
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