Over the past six months, Southwest Health Systems has faced a variety of challenges in an effort to continue to provide health care to our local communities.
These difficult choices included an August decision that eliminated 40 positions at the hospital. It was not an easy nor a popular decision for the Southwest Health System board to make. The board certainly considered the negative impacts to 40 families, but no action could have resulted in the closure of the hospital, an event with significantly greater consequences, which the board was unwilling to gamble on.
Now our communities are asking the SHS board why another $9 million must be spent on new infrastructure when we’ve just spent $32 million on new construction,
To explain this means giving you a little background on how hospital governance works. The hospital building is owned by the Montezuma County Health District, a taxing district with an unpaid, elected board. The building is leased to Southwest Health Systems, which is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) business. The SHS board consists of unpaid volunteers from Montezuma County. It is responsible for oversight of the operation of the hospital, which includes staffing, financials, billing, medical machinery and facility operations as well as making sure our hospital doors stay open to provide a much-needed service to the Four Corners area.
It is important to make sure that the existing infrastructure can support ongoing operations of the building. Many infrastructure improvements were made during the most recent expansion project. However, the limited sales tax ballot question approved by the voters in November 2015 authorized the building of a new wing and an emergency medical service building and updating emergency and outpatient facilities.
Project dollars could not have legally been used toward the maintenance or replacement of outdated mechanical equipment on the older portion of the hospital that is in need of upgrades.
The MCHD and SHS boards are committed to funding improvements to equipment such as boilers, HVAC systems, redundant backup power systems and other essential infrastructure improvements that are imperative to the ongoing operations of the facility. Both the SHS and MCHD boards are determined to fund the upgrades with little impact to services or the taxpayers of our communities.
On Dec. 5, the Southwest Health Systems board elected two new members, and we continue to seek new candidates interested in joining. New applicants bring fresh ideas and additional energy to the board. Board positions are voluntary, unpaid assignments that are taken on by people who believe a successful hospital is just as important to a community as clean water, high-performing schools, successful businesses, reliable electrical systems or good roads.
We invite members of the community to join our meetings, which are typically held the fourth Wednesday of each month, or to contact MCHD or SHS board members with any question.
Eight months ago, the SHS board entered a management agreement with Community Hospital Corp., a hospital management organization, in an effort to improve the hospital’s financial situation. There have been improvements to the hospital’s financial outlook including a positive trend in our bottom line. Our days cash-on-hand have improved from less than 10 days as of April 2018 to 30 days in December 2018 and we remain on track to continue meeting targets set by our financial institutions.
The SHS Board has increased its financial oversight of hospital financial operations by re-establishing a finance committee that receives updates weekly and we will seat a facilities committee that works closely with the MCHD board to address critical hospital infrastructure needs. The SHS board will increase board trainings beginning this month.
Hospital operations are incredibly complex. Volunteer board members do not necessarily start out with all of the skills to operate a hospital and always rely on the 380 professional, dedicated and determined Southwest Hospital System staff as partners in the successful operation of our community’s medical services. That staff is integral to the success of the hospital and the SHS Board is thankful for their hard work and expertise through challenging times.
Tom Rice chairs the Southwest Health System board of directors