Twin Bridges, Montana
Sheridan hospital to ask voters for help
By Perry Backus of The
November 17, 2003
|Town hall meetings on the Ruby Valley Hospital's four-year strategic plan follow; all start at 7
Tuesday, Nov. 18 Alder Community Hall
Thursday, Nov. 20 Virginia City Courtroom
Tuesday, Nov. 25 Silver Star Schoolhouse
Tuesday, Dec. 2 Church of the Valley, Twin Bridges
Thursday, Dec. 4 Bethany Hall, Sheridan
Like many rural hospitals across Montana, Sheridan's Ruby Valley Hospital is struggling to keep its doors open.
Over the past two fiscal years, the hospital has lost $385,727 on net revenues of a little over $2.4 million. It's lost nurses to places that pay more. And it's been impossible to afford needed updates with some equipment.
Now, armed with a new four-year strategic plan, the hospital board is hoping to turn the
situation around and expand services. To do that, the board is askin locals to ante up for the next four years through an increase in the
district's mill levy.
On Dec. 8, the district will mail a special ballot asking voters to increase the hospital levy to 30 mills from the present eight mills.
The levy will raise an estimated $240,000 a year. Currently, the hospital receives about $65,000 from local
"We can do a much better job here," said hospital administrator Gary Steinbach. "I think we have some tremendous opportunity here."
But to make that happen, Steinbach said the hospital has to pay down debt, replace aging equipment and develop a competitive wage-and-benefit program.
The board is developing a four-year strategic business plan that will outline steps needed to add services, including a new diagnostic radiology unit, and improve health care in the Ruby Valley. Over the next month, the board will host five meetings for people to learn about the plan and to offer comment.
The board also plans a direct-mail campaign to residents describing the proposal and the challenges the hospital faces. Members of the board and hospital staff will also set up personal visits with locals.
"My goal is personally contact 600 people," said Steinbach. "The medical staff's goal is to talk with 20 different people … this really is a bottom to top kind of effort."
Hospital officials are already listening. Steinbach and others have already talked with over 230 people from the Ruby Valley. They used that feedback to help develop the draft plan, Steinbach said.
"This plan is really what people told me that we needed to do," he said.
Steinbach said the hospital is looking at the possibility of expanding its services by bringing in specialists, enlarging its successful physical therapy program, adding programs for the elderly and developing a community health program.
"The plan is to turn around the financial condition of the hospital," Steinbach said. "You do that not by cutting back on services, but adding to the scope of services you have to offer."
The hospital has already started that effort. Beginning in December, three Dillon physicians will offer a weekly prenatal clinic in Sheridan. In addition, the hospital already has a visiting optometrist and podiatrist seeing patients on a regular basis.
"A key success factor for our hospital and clinics is to bring additional specialists to Sheridan," said Steinbach.
He said expansions are also sought in the Visiting Specialist Program in gynecology, dermatology, urology and cardiology and "tele-medicine."
Another aspect is the creation of a competitive wage-and-benefit program for the nursing staff. Since 2000, five full-time registered nurses have left the hospital, in part because of better opportunities elsewhere. The hospital has been forced to hire traveling nurses at a cost of $119,000 annually.
"We've lost five outstanding nurses in part to not paying what the market requires," said Steinbach. "We need to keep those jobs here. If you pay local people, that money goes right back into the local economy."
The hospital has a $1.3 million annual payroll.
"There are so many employees here who work so hard to keep this place going," said Steinbach. "There are so many who do three or four jobs because in their heart of hearts; they know that's what it takes to keep this small place going."
© Copyright Perry Backus and the Montana
Standard, reproduced by permission.