Southwest Memorial’s cutbacks hit home in Dolores

Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 9:52 PM
Cody Rogers and Eddie Martinez of Southwest Health System ambulance services pose with Cheryl Speer and Billy McCoy of the Dolores Fire Protection District in 2016. SHS ambulances no longer will be stationed in Dolores.

Cutbacks at Southwest Memorial Hospital in Cortez are having an impact in Dolores.

Southwest Health System CEO Tony Sudduth gave a presentation to the Dolores Town Board about the hospital’s financial health.

He is part of the Colorado Hospital Corp. consulting team hired in July by hospital officials to analyze the books and implement a recovery plan.

In August, to control runaway costs, Southwest Health cut 40 full-time positions, including six from the ambulance department. As a result, ambulances no longer will be stationed in Dolores, Sudduth said, but they will continue to serve the area.

“The cutbacks in staff were a tough decision,” Sudduth said, but necessary to keep the hospital financially viable.

In April 2017, Southwest Health System and the Dolores Fire Department teamed up to station an ambulance crew 24-7 at the fire station, which provided sleeping quarters.

The arrangement was ideal, said Dolores Fire Chief Mike Zion, because Dolores is well positioned to serve a large area, including the town, Colorado Highway 145, the West Fork, Dolores River, McPhee Reservoir, Groundhog and Rico.

“Once the hospital recovers, we hope to get them back,” Zion said.

Southwest ambulances will be stationed in Cortez and Mancos and will continue to respond to the Dolores area. The Dolores Fire Protection District’s EMS ambulances also respond to emergencies using trained volunteer personnel, Zion said.

Because of the hospital’s financial crisis, Southwest Health System no longer plans to open a health clinic in Dolores, Sudduth said. Southwest Health purchased the office building at 601 Central Ave., formerly Mountain Stone, for $295,000 in July 2017, according to the Montezuma County Assessor’s database. The building was undergoing a remodel to house examination rooms, reception area and doctor offices.

Sudduth said Southwest Health likely will sell the building, but he said SHS has not ruled out opening a clinic in Dolores in the future.

There has not been a medical provider in Dolores since Dr. Allan Scott Burnside retired in January 2017 after maintaining a practice in Dolores for 23 years. Burnside retired amid a review by the Colorado Medical Board that alleged improper prescription of painkillers including morphine and methadone.

A school-based health clinic is under construction on the Dolores School District RE-4A campus, but it plans to focus on treating students and staff.