County commission approves $250,000 for operations

Bowman County Commissioners Lynn Brackel (L) and Rick Braaten (R) review a document of finances from Southwest Healthcare Services. Interim CEO John Osse presented the information to the commissioners during their regular meeting on Aug. 1. The commission approved funding of $250,000 to help with operations at the hospital. (Pioneer Photo by Cole Benz)

The Bowman County Commissioners agreed to give Southwest Healthcare $250,000 two weeks after the board of directors asked for $1 million to help the facility through financial hardships as they wait for their organization changes to take affect.

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“We did vote on it, we all voted in favor of giving [Southwest Healthcare] $250,000 for now,” said commission chair Rick Braaten. “In 60 days I guess they’re going to come back and give us a report as far as which direction they’re heading, if there’s a trend of going forward or backward, then we’ll decide then if we want to give them any more if they need it.”

The vote was unanimous.

The decision comes after the board had approached the county with the large request. And as the meetings progressed, it was apparent that many of the commissioners wanted to help, but that they were more comfortable with smaller amounts incrementally.

Braaten said what convinced him was that interim CEO John Osse said the $250,000 would  be enough for the 60 days. Braaten had reservations on distributing the entire request of $1 million. The money will come from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) fund.

“I would support that if the board was willing to do that,” Osse said. “I think that’s a good suggestion.”

Braaten told the Pioneer that he was satisfied with the answers the board had given to the commissioner’s questions throughout the process. And the board answered everything that was asked.

During the meeting, which had law enforcement presence, Braaten indicated early that this was going to be a hard decision, and wanted more answers.

“This isn’t an easy decision, so we’re going to talk about it some more,” he said.

Prior to the meeting, Osse had submitted a packet with financial information for each commissioner to review.

The hospital had been in some financial trouble for a while, and board member Duane Bowman was very honest about the situation when he addressed the commissioners.

“I can be very transparent and honest with you on what the last year has been like, and what it’s taken to keep the doors open,” Bowman said. “We’ve been from week to week in order to make payroll.”

The board has taken multiple steps in the last year to make sure the hospital doors stay open, including liquidating more than $500,000 of long term assets, selling the clinic, and applying (and given) a $150,000 grant.

If the hospital closed, the economic impact it would have on the community could be tremendous. And Bowman talked about a study that was done recently on how much Southwest Healthcare affects the local economy.

A 2016 study—when the hospital and long term care center employed 194 people in total—done by IMPLAN Group, LLC, said that for every hospital job, another .39 job is created in other industries. So with the 194 positions, 55 jobs would be created indirectly, making that a total of nearly 250 jobs.

Furthermore, the 194 positions generate wages, salaries and benefits and contractual compensation in the amount of $4 million for the hospital and $2.7 million for the long term care facility—a combined total of $6.7 million.

“I guess that’s the one thing I want everybody, not just you guys as commissioners, to understand the economic impact that Southwest Healthcare has on our community and on our county,” Bowman said.

The current number of employees mentioned during the meetings total 175 after staff cuts and reorganization.

Southwest Healthcare board chairman Gary Brennan said he would appreciate the $250,000, because the situation is getting close enough to where they might have to make a hard decision.

“Honestly if we don’t get some assistance we’re going to be faced with a very difficult decision of which we’re going to have to lean on Mr. Osse,” Brennan said.

Inferring closure, Brennan said that in the next month they would have to make that decision without funding. Osse agreed.

The hospital has a public meeting scheduled for Aug. 24, and the commissioners asked if they would have a better outlook on how their action plan is taking effect.

Osse said there should be; there would be another financial statement and he monitors cash daily, “we’ll see a little more of a trend, not a total trend but a little more of a trend in terms of staff cuts and supply costs should be down,” he said. “We’ll know by then definitively where the doctor situation is.”

As it stands now, Osse and the board are very confident that the changes they’ve made are going to allow their financial situation to get better.

The changes include the recruitment of physicians Dr. Matthew Feller and Dr. Forrest Lanchbury.

But Braaten asked Osse what they would have to do “if it doesn’t look very good on the 24th of August?” Osse said he would be making a different recommendation.

“If it doesn’t look good and the doctors don’t come for whatever [reason], then I’ll be making a different kind of recommendation to the board,” Osse said.

Commissioner Jerry Jeffers made clear that the board needs to be totally transparent during the Aug. 24 public meeting.

“When you do have the public meeting, you certainly don’t want to pull any punches,” Jeffers said. “You want to lay it out for people and let them know how things are.”

Osse agreed, and said that in these situations, you can’t hide anything.

“You won’t be able to hide it,” he said. “And if you did try you’re going to get caught.”

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