The Bowman County Commissioners have yet to render a decision on the $1 million funding request from Southwest Healthcare after meeting with the board and interim CEO John Osse for a second time in as many weeks.
By COLE BENZ
“It’s not going to be easy, and at this point I’m not really at a point to make a decision one way or another,” said commission chairman Rick Braaten. “I need some more questions answered I guess.”
Commissioner Pine Abrahamson also echoed the hard decision sentiment.
One problem that multiple commissioners had, was the fact that the commission had yet to see any type of financial reports. Commissioner Jerry Jeffers said that if he went to a bank for a loan that he “better have some paperwork in front of me to show them what my cash flow is, why I need the money and where it’s going to go, how it’s going to shore up my operation.”
“You did not present any of that to us the other day, and you still don’t have it,” Jeffers said. “And I don’t feel I can make a educated decision without seeing some of that paperwork.”
Commissioner Lynn Brackel agreed with Jeffers.
The board was very open to providing them with the documents they needed, with Osse saying that was a fair request.
Abrahamson wondered if board members, management, and employees are using the facility, and if they are encouraging others to utilize the services. It was asked rhetorically, knowing the board members couldn’t speak for others, but he wanted to get that point across.
Jeffers encouraged the board to start holding public meetings. Not only to communicate with the community, but also to inform them on changes—like new physicians—and educate them on services offered at the facility.
“Whether or not we decide to [approve funding], I think it behoves you to start having some public meetings,” Jeffers said. “That’ll do much more than a billboard.”
The commissioners continued to ask the board questions for more than an hour. And Abrahamson asked “how did Southwest Healthcare get into trouble so quick?”
Board member Duane Bowman talked about the loss of the three doctors a few years ago as the biggest issue.
“You lose three of them at the same time, I mean that’s impossible to replace,” Bowman said. “That has a significant impact on revenue, and you lose patients at that point, but your expenses don’t drop.”
Board chairman Gary Brennan added that it was a combination of less revenue and more expenses.
The commission asked if they approve the funding, could it be distributed intermittently, or would the hospital need it all at once?
“How much of this million could you stretch out over six months,” Brackel asked.
Osse and Brennan said they would have to check on specifics with CFO Sasha Ruggles—who was not at the meeting—but thought that the hospital would be fine doing it over a period of time. Though Brennan and Osse agreed that they may need a large sum early, with smaller amounts later.
Commissioner Ken Steiner who seemed to support the request, said the ramifications of the hospital closing would be bad, which is his concern, but he wanted to make sure they weren’t in the same place a year from now.
“I’m not against giving the money to keep this facility going because if you look at the overall picture, it’s going to bite all of us really hard,” Steiner said. “Some of the people are going to be upset [if] we give this money now, if we don’t give this money and the value of property goes down we’re going to have to raise taxes than everyone is going to be mad at us.”
Osse asked if he thought the board would be throwing money ‘down a hole.’ Osse said he didn’t believe that was the case.
“If I thought so, and I have in my career, recommended a hospital [to] close…[but] I can tell you that in my opinion there’s a good chance, in other words good enough that its worth the investment,” Osse said.
But he couldn’t give the commission guarantees, and said the funding would be a bridge until the plan they’ve put in place can really start to show results.
The commission asked the board and Osse to come back next week when they meet again, but even then, Braaten said he couldn’t say whether or not they would have a decision to give them. The next meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Aug. 1.