High Desert Hoofbeats
Starting to wonder...
by Sena Taylor Hauer
Sep 26, 2013 | 751 views | 0 0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Nearly three years into their new digs, hospital officials continue to ask for public financial support for a facility that’s debt challenges are proving to be chronic. It’s time for hospital administrators to be more forthcoming about their costs and expenditures, and provide an opportunity for the public to be part of the economic solution.

There is surely no entity more disappointed in asking the county for public assistance than the very hospital that has made a recent request to the Grand County Council for several hundred thousand dollars. Donations from the county and other entities, including private donors, are being called “seed money” that would match federal funding that would be available to Moab Regional only if a portion of the matching funds can be locally raised. The state requires hospitals to provide a percentage of matching money in order to receive federal dollars through Medicaid’s Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) program.

The hospital and county went through this song and dance a year ago when the hospital asked for and received $195,000 in county general fund money.

The DSH payments are based on the fact that our community has a high rate of low-income and uninsured users. The state requires that the majority of the so-called “seed money” must come from community sources, rather than from the hospital directly. But is that really seed money, or is it an ongoing source of funding that the hospital can’t survive without?

Last year, the hospital was able to secure money from the county, even after the county’s budget deadline had passed. The Moab City Council also contributed $82,000 to the hospital, which it took primarily from its Utah State University Set Aside Fund.

This year, some county council members are balking at the belated request because their budget was finalized weeks ago, and the money would have to come from reserves. Hats off to the county council for taking some time to sort through their concerns about the request.

I am disturbed by the hospital’s continuing reports of financial losses, and annoyed by repeated requests for help. Since way before a back-hoe dug into the ground on Williams Way the hospital board and its paid officials have asked for financial help from the community, which has been supportive as evidenced by city, county and private donations. I had hoped that the hospital’s new CEO, Rob Austin, would be able to help create a more positive economic picture at Moab Regional. With regard to the long-term care center housed under the same roof, I was disappointed to see the hospital’s outgoing CEO be shuffled from the helm of the hospital to the care center, and I’ll stick my neck out and ask why a person whose fiscally challenged track record at the hospital should have been placed in charge of a neighboring facility.

Quite frankly, I’ve lost confidence in how the hospital and care center are being run, and I don’t think I’m alone. While the two facilities have separate budgets, staffs and boards, they are both financially strapped. At this juncture when the hospital is asking for more public money, the community deserves more information. How long will public funds have to prop it up? What will happen to the facility if the county doesn’t donate funding? Can the hospital present a business plan that leads to fiscal self-sustainability?

Moab residents have few choices when it comes to health care. We have seen good doctors have to leave because of funding shortages, and we may yet see more. The Free Health Clinic, which is one of the biggest assets in this community, is thriving even without hospital support, and certainly must be taking a potential debt and load from Moab Regional by virtue of its service to the uninsured and underinsured in this area. Still other Moab residents continue to drive to Grand Junction, Salt Lake City and other environs for their health care needs.

When the beautiful facility opened just less than three years ago, I tried to shrug off quiet community grumblings that the hospital wasn’t really new and improved, but that it was just the same old operation in a new building. But now I’m starting to wonder.

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