Choosing her words as carefully as a man walking through a minefield chooses his next step, Moab Regional Hospital CEO Jen Sadoff in an interview with The Times-Independent expounded on what impacts a planned health clinic on the San Juan County side of Spanish Valley could have on MRH’s bottom line and future plans.
Sadoff has several concerns, such as how the San Juan County Health Service District intends to finance the project – largely through a more than $1 million grant combined with a more than $4 million 30-year loan at 1% interest, both through the Community Impact Board – a deal she deems wholly unfair given that government would be subsidizing a project that would compete with Moab Regional Hospital, Grand County’s largest private employer with more than 240 on the payroll.
She and Moab Valley Healthcare, Inc. Director Doug Fix on Jan. 14 requested the Grand County Council oppose the plan, or in the alternative, to request the Impact Board to compel San Juan Health to perform a wide-ranging needs assessment before funding the clinic – one that would take into account the fact Moab Regional is roughly 8 miles from Spanish Valley.
She said the plan as it reads now would lead people to believe there was “no hospital in Moab.”
Sadoff also said the services the Spanish Valley clinic would provide are already available at Moab Regional. But Sadoff emphasized she isn’t afraid of competition and she has no desire to feud – publicly or otherwise – with the San Juan Health Service District.
“We don’t know what the impact will be to Moab Regional Hospital,” she said. “It may not be as bad as we think, but I’m very protective of this region.” It is a region that stretches across Grand County into northern San Juan and southern Emery.
She said about 1,300 San Juan residents sought treatment at MRH last year– and that doesn’t include the hundreds of San Juan residents in Spanish Valley. Sadoff said data for the study was culled from patients’ zip codes. Spanish Valley has the same code as Moab regardless of what side of the county line someone lives. “We couldn’t even include Spanish Valley,” said Sadoff.
Of those roughly 1,300 patients, about $1.3 million worth of care went uncompensated. “We’re already providing services they are going to provide,” said Sadoff.
Executives at San Juan Health in an interview defended their decision to build the clinic in Spanish Valley – and they insist the location was not chosen in order to compete with Moab Regional.
“That isn’t our intention,” said San Juan Health Chief Operating Officer Jimmy Johnson. “We represent citizens of San Juan County. That is who we are.”
When asked why no needs assessment was conducted prior to making the decision to go forward with the clinic, Johnson said the goal was to “replicate what we have [at the clinic] here in Monticello.” Johnson said roughly 1,000 residents live south of Monticello. He said the analysis took in clinic volume and cost reports.
“We will start small,” said Johnson, with an eye toward future growth. “Our goal is, we want to cooperate,” with Moab Regional. “We’re not putting in an ER … our goal is family medicine that would be available long term.”
Johnson also said it was his opinion the more health care choices people have, the better.
When asked if San Juan Health would agree to perform a regional needs assessment if doing so were a condition of the Impact Board funding, Johnson took a deep breath before saying, “We would be willing to undertake a regional study.” He also said the decision wasn’t made in a vacuum. “We have 25 years experience in San Juan health care, costs, needs and what it takes. If we need to do a regional study, so be it, but I feel we have very strong intellectual property here.”
While San Juan Health as a government agency has every right to seek government funding, Sadoff believes the decision to build a clinic so close to MRH with taxpayer money gives it an unfair advantage. She said there are hundreds of underserved San Juan residents south of Blanding that are just as deserving of health care.
When asked for a compromise, Sadoff said, “I would settle for them using their own money. I sure can’t stop them, but they should go through the steps to get traditional financing.”
Sadoff also noted what she characterized as the generous terms of the loan, which is for 30 years at 1 percent interest. “And they don’t have to start paying for two years,” said Sadoff. “Moreover, if they’re wrong and the clinic fails, which the last one did, guess who’s on the hook? Taxpayers.”
San Juan established a clinic in Spanish Valley from 2010 to 2013. Johnson said lessons were learned. He also said no current San Juan Health executives were involved in the earlier clinic.
For Sadoff, the financial impact the clinic might have on Moab Regional could be relatively insignificant. It depends on how many patients use the clinic – and how many of them go to the San Juan Hospital for further treatment.
What the clinic has a good shot at disrupting is the Moab hospital’s long-term strategic plan – which includes a $24 million expansion of a facility that already offers many services not normally found in rural hospitals.
While the Grand County Council declined to formally intervene in the clinic’s pursuit of Impact Board funding, members did say they would make personal phone calls to CIB members to express their concerns. The CIB meets Feb. 6 and is expected to take formal action on the funding request, which has already been preliminarily approved.