MRH wants more planning put into proposed Spanish Valley health clinic

Moab Valley Healthcare, Inc. board member Doug Fix and Moab Regional Hospital CEO Jen Sadoff on Tuesday look for Grand County Council support in slowing down plans by the San Juan County Health Service District to build a clinic on the San Juan side of Spanish Valley. Photo by Doug McMurdo

Moab Regional Hospital CEO Jen Sadoff and Doug Fix, a board member of Moab Valley Healthcare, Inc., the nonprofit that oversees the hospital, asked the Grand County Council to “do an unusual thing” at Tuesday’s meeting – support their opposition to a grant request to the Utah Community Impact Board to help fund a health clinic on the San Juan County side of Spanish Valley.

A majority of the council cautioned against writing a letter to the CIB, however, citing a warning to “stay out of other counties’ business” issued in 2019 after the council formally protested the plan to build a Loves Travel Stop truck stop at Sunny Acres Lane, which is essentially on the boundary between Grand and San Juan counties.

Chair Mary McGann and Member Evan Clapper were in support of the letter, but Vice Chair Jaylyn Hawks and members Curtis Wells, Greg Halliday and Rory Paxman favored making personal telephone calls to members of the CIB – one who is longtime San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams. Recently appointed Member Gabe Woytek said he needed to become more familiar with the issue before making a decision.

The City of Moab and the hospital board and other Grand County entities have written letters to the CIB, out of concern the clinic would send patients it treats to the San Juan Hospital in Monticello when they would otherwise seek help at MRH.

The San Juan Health Service District plans to build the facility primarily with a $5.4 million grant and low-interest loan from the CIB. It’s the grant portion of that funding – about $1 million – that concerns Sadoff and Fix. They argue that the grant is tantamount to government unfairly funding a competitor to MRH and, more importantly, that no regional studies have been done to justify the need.

Sadoff said the San Juan Health Service District has said it’s building the clinic to provide services to more than 400 San Juan County taxpayers who live in the northern end of the county. She said an equal number of underserved San Juan County residents live in other areas of San Juan, such as south of Blanding.

“Our basic problem is, we don’t know what they’re trying to do,” said Fix. “When we look at the application, there’s no needs assessment, no feasibility study. It’s basically a family services clinic. It’s redundant to what’s available already. Nobody would even know there was a hospital in Moab.”

Fix said the “long and short of it” is that the clinic would have “razor thin margins. They can’t build without the CIB grant.” Fix said he spent 30 years in health care finance. He said MRH has an “incredibly rare combination” of expertise in both the medical and executive sides of the business with an “unmatched level of services for a community this size.”

He said if the CIB won’t reject the application outright, it should at least demand a needs assessment be conducted. The CIB, however, has already signaled it would approve the request.

The district has already purchased land at Spanish Valley Drive and Old Airport Road and secured funding for the $6.4 million facility, which will be constructed on what is set to become one of the main intersections in growing Spanish Valley.

The district proposes to provide nearly $1 million of its own money for the project, with $400,000 for the property and $600,000 for the furnishings and fixtures, with the CIB making a preliminary commitment for $5.4 million with about $1 million in a grant and the remaining amount in the form of a 30-year loan at 1% interest.

“We want to protect the hospital against unfair competition,” said Sadoff. “What we’re talking about is one valley. People from San Juan County are using our services. Last year we provided $3.1 million in uncompensated service. There’s no regional study and [if one had been done] we would be considered to be in the region. To subsidize a competitor with a free grant … creates unfair competition. They’re putting [Grand County] largest private employer at risk.”

Sadoff later said the services the clinic will provide are “revenue drivers for hospitals, such as radiology. She conceded there are “things we need to work on,” such as improving mental health services and the wait times to see a primary care physician. She said recruitment efforts are underway to bring in another doctor and triage nurses.

Timing is critical. The CIB meets and will likely render its final approval Feb. 6.

Because Sadoff and Fix spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting the council could not vote on the matter. That came under future considerations.

“I didn’t realize what the impact would be in our community,” said Clapper after McGann asked council members to weigh in.

“I think we need to be really careful about getting into another county’s business,” said Halliday. “Seems to me we’ve already been warned.”

Hawks voiced frustration with the issue being brought to the council so late in the process. “This was brought to your attention in October,” she said. “I agree with Greg. We need to be careful, but I want San Juan County to justify the need. I don’t want to say, ‘No, CIB, you can’t fund it.’”

“I would echo what’s been said,” said Wells, who added good points were made, but it would be better to talk to CIB members than to send a letter.

Paxman agreed, opting to talk to the CIB and “get the study done.”

Asked for his input, Clerk-Auditor Chris Baird said, “We would do a lot better taking to CIB members.” Sending a letter, he said, could end up with “the worst of all possible outcomes” as it would have no effect on the CIB’s decision regarding funding the clinic and could hurt the community’s chances to get help in the future. “You have to realize every political organization in Grand County could be impacted. We’ve already been warned” not to interfere in San Juan County.

“I think it’s a good idea to slow down the process,” said McGann after urging her colleagues to call members of the CIB.