Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By Marcus Huff
Staff Writer 

Thermopolis hospital faces district decision

 

October 6, 2016



THERMOPOLIS – Hot Springs County voters will determine the future of the Hot Springs County Memorial Hospital on Nov. 8, with the ability to vote on creating a hospital district, financed with a series of tax increases, or to allow the hospital to continue in its current model.

Faced with state budget and Medicare and Medicaid cuts, some fear the hospital cannot maintain at it’s current level, and when allowed three years ago, formed a political action committee to form a hospital district.

Tobi Johanson, a Thermopolis resident and member of Yes for Our Hospital PAC, fears that the possibility of the current hospital closing in the near future is great enough to become involved. “Being a public hospital, there is a huge amount of unpaid health care,” said Johanson.

“They can’t turn away people with no insurance, and many can’t get insurance with Medicare being cut back, so it amounts to around a $1.4 million loss to the hospital every year,” added Johanson, “it can’t go on like that for long before it just collapses.”

Seeing a need to try something to save the hospital and services for Hot Springs County residents, the county commissioners agreed to add the proposition to the ballot. If passed, funding for the district would be accomplished with a 3 mill levy of $30 per $100,000 evaluation of property (averaging $45 per household) and a 1 percent sales tax increase which would be capped at $16.4 million.

“We’re really trying to show that we can help ourselves in this instance,” said Commissioner Brad Basse. “Rather than rely on outside help, with no control, Hot Springs County residents can control the future of our hospital services.”

Basse pointed out that if the hospital is lost, the closest service would be Worland, which outweighs the cost of a tax increase, an opinion that is shared by Johanson and the Yes PAC.

“There would be profound changes if the hospital closed,” said Johanson. “It’s already reaching a tipping point, and if services are gone it will be bad for the overall health of the community.”

Basse points out that emergency services are critical, and the population could be affected if the hospital runs out of funding. “It’s critical people have emergency care during that ‘golden hour’ after a stroke or heart attack, so having the hospital here is very important. Besides, if you lose the facility, it affects everything down the line. We stand to lose residents, students, businesses …”

Opposition

Harry Hughes, a member of Citizens for Common Sense Health Care, the action committee opposing the district vote, believes that the commissioners didn’t consider all alternatives before proposing the vote. “Our primary concern is that an analysis wasn’t performed correctly by the hospital board, and that the county commissioners didn’t listen to all sides before making a decision.”

Basse believes the main opposition comes from a fear of raising taxes, and that larger property owners may feel overcharged for services that may not benefit them equally. “There’s a lot of sentiment that any tax is a bad tax,” said Basse. “I fear that kind of thinking is equating federal waste with local issues. It really comes down to the individual property owner weighing the cost versus the benefit in this case. It’s really about taking care of ourselves.”

On the ballot in November will also be candidates for a newly-organized hospital district board of directors, which would replace the current hospital board in 2017, should the district vote pass. So far, 17 candidates have applied, including members on both sides of the issue.

Thermopolis will be hosting a candidate and issues forum tonight at 6:30 p.m. at the middle school, where representatives from both political action committees and county commissioners will be in attendance to answer questions on the hospital issue.

 
 

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