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Riverton, plagued by service cuts, eyes public hospital ownership

RIVERTON — After a year of diligent work on preparations for building a new full-service hospital, leaders of the Riverton Medical District say a key provision in the effort will be ensuring that the hospital is owned locally and controlled locally.

“We have a chance to change the trajectory of our community,” said Corte McGuffey of the hospital district leadership group in a community meeting Tuesday at Riverton Middle School.

After watching with dismay as national hospital corporate giant LifePoint opted to eliminate many services at its Riverton hospital and transfer many functions to the hospital it owned in Lander in recent years, the Riverton group formed last summer and has now spent 12 full months in a step-by-step process they now believe will lead to a new, independent hospital in Riverton, built from the ground up.

The Riverton Medical District initiative has drawn on local experts in management, finance, legal services and medicine, while also receiving help from cooperative hospital leaders from around Wyoming. Consultation at the national level also has taken place.

Vivian Watkins, a founding member of the local group, said an ownership structure is being put in place to ensure two key provisions mandated by the Riverton Medical District.

“First, our hospital will be entirely under local control,” she said at the Tuesday meeting.

“Also, it will be established in such a way that it can never be sold ” without local approval.

Central to that setup is the establishment of a local hospital trust which would own the new facility and be governed by a panel of local trustees – “not in Tennessee, but here,” Watkins said, referring to the out-of-state corporate management of Life Pointy, which since has sold the two Fremont County hospitals to a different corporate parent.

Watkins explained the trust configuration this way: “Let's say I have a pen, and I give it to you to take care of it as my trustee,” she said. “My pen is still my pen. You can use it, and take care of it for me, but it is still mine. I still own and control it.”

She said the Riverton Medical District will only proceed once the trust has been established to ensure that “our hospital is owned and controlled by the people of our community in perpetuity.“

Hospital district leaders have conferred with several hospital management companies and have come to view Quorum Health Resources as the candidate to manage the new Riverton hospital. Watkins said Quorum has been the hospital management company in Cody for 25 years, “and they do a marvelous job.”

Noting the high turnover rate in management at the corporate-owned Riverton hospital over the past decade, Watkins said as well, that the same hospital administrator has lived and worked in Cody since the 1990s, employed by Quorum.

Riverton Medical District also believes it has found a preferred construction contractor in Wisconsin-based Erdman. It specializes in health care facilities and recently has worked at Westward Heights nursing home in Lander on an addition and renovation.

Watkins congratulated the local community in raising $150,000 to pay for a comprehensive feasibility study for the new hospital, and she said another round of fundraising could be necessary.

Expenses to cover attorney fees in setting up the trust must be met, and the former state government official who has agreed to be the temporary executive director of the hospital district, Tom Forslund, also will need to be compensated for his services.

Watkins said the initial round of fundraising saw contributions raised ranging from $5 to $5,000.

“Every one of them has been important,”she said.

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