From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 6, Number 8 - May 18, 2006
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RHCD seeks commission funding for clinics

by Cat Urbigkit

Representatives of the Sublette County Rural Health Care District Board met with county commissioners Tuesday to try to get an idea how much money the commission is willing to provide for construction of two new medical clinics in the county. The commission put the issue off, expecting to deliberate about funding at its June 6 meeting.

RHCD Chairman Jerry Jensen told the commission the board has been planning for the clinics for about a year and a half, and in that amount of time, the price of the clinics has increased “basically the price of the clinic.”

Jensen said although the cost of clinic construction has risen, money could be saved if both clinics are built at the same time.

In addition, the Marbleton clinic deal needs to involve the purchase of property. Although the board looked at various properties in the Marbleton/Big Piney area, the search has apparently been narrowed to the property around the existing clinic.

In meeting recently with the Marbleton Town Council, the RHCD was once again put on notice that the council is insistent that the clinic remains in its current location.

Jensen said in his view, “We’re kind of being blackmailed.” Commission Chair Betty Fear agreed that is what’s happening.

Jensen explained that although the RHCD could buy property anywhere in town it wanted, the board would have to fight for the building permit from the council anyway if the RHCD didn’t choose as the council wanted.

RHCD Board Member Mary Lynn Worl said she felt the council had a strong point of concern about ambulances navigating through a residential area, so the existing location eliminates this concern.

Commissioner John Linn pointed out that the county has already committed the land purchase for expansion of the existing clinic location, because that provides the county with the vehicle to funnel money to the Town of Marbleton.

Linn pointed out, “At this point we haven’t really become your partner yet,” and suggested although some board members feel like they are being blackmailed, that’s because the board hasn’t firmly established partners for the project.

Jensen also pointed out that the commission asked the RHCD to provide $250,000 to the Sublette Center to help fund its medical wing operations, with the expectation that the money for this expense would come from the commission. This year the Sublette Center’s funding request is for $600,000. Jensen said that the RHCD can’t afford the building projects and the Sublette Center request. Worl said that the RHCD has received almost $758,000 in budget requests from other health-care providers and entities.

Linn suggested that before the commission commits to funding a set amount of money for the clinics, all the issues need to be worked out, including funding for the senior center and the ambulance barn, in addition to the clinics.

Commissioner Bill Cramer said he doesn’t want to get bogged down in details and does not believe it is the commission’s role to second-guess RHCD board decisions.

“Your mandate is to provide for the health care in the county,” he said. Cramer said he wouldn’t mind fronting the money for the construction projects, with the agreement that the RHCD would pay it back later when the district is faced with funding only its operating expenses and not construction projects.

RHCD Board Member Bill Barney said he has no problem with Cramer’s idea.

Fear said when it comes to building two clinics at one time: “This just seems like overkill to me. I don’t like the whole thought of that.”

Fear said she’s not certain she agrees with fronting the money either.

Barney estimated that each clinic would cost $6.6 million for construction, with an additional $2.5-3 million in “soft costs.”

When Fear asked the RHCD representatives if only one clinic construction project were to be funded what the priority would be, Barney explained that the board had never voted on which clinic to do first.

Worl said from a physical facility priority, Marbleton would be first, but in terms of patient load, it’s Pinedale that’s suffering, to which Jensen agreed.

Fear quizzed the RHCD representatives about their funding and spending; pointing out that the district’s 2 mills should probably generate $7.5 million this year.

Barney said it costs $5.1 million annually to operate the district.

The RHCD has more than $4 million in reserves, according to RHCD Clerk Juana McGinnis.

Fear said the commission would purchase the land in Marbleton, as promised, but “I am not sold right now on starting two clinic projects.”

Linn said the commission needs more information from the RHCD to make a decision, including “a plan, a vision, options.”

“It’s important to me to not feel like we’re butting heads,” Linn said.

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