At the invitation of John Gavan, Delta County Memorial Hospital CEO Jason Cleckler spoke to an audience of about 25 members of the Aging in Place working group, Rotarians and health care providers last Thursday at the Paonia Library.
Cleckler spoke mainly about the future of health care at DCMH, and the hospital's continuing efforts to support health care options in the North Fork area.
The hospital is asking what it can do to keep citizens in the North Fork area "from driving to Delta for a basic lab test," said Cleckler.
At the request of the North Fork Clinic owners, the hospital stepped in last year to help keep the clinic afloat. At the time, the clinic employed four health care providers and staffed offices at Paonia and Hotchkiss. DCMH returned operations to the clinic and physicians Tim Meilner and Michelle Hundley as of July 31, according to a press release on deltahospital.org.
Two providers found jobs at other facilities, and Hundley has accepted a position with the Veterans Administration, which is not an uncommon move, said Cleckler. Due to staff shortages, the Hotchkiss clinic closed its doors, and Dr. Meilner continues to treat patients at the Paonia office. Cleckler said DCMH, which currently operates 10 area clinics, plans to open a clinic in Hotchkiss before Oct. 1, to fill the gap created by the closing of the Hotchkiss clinic.
Since returning operations to the clinic, a lot of information has been disseminated, said Cleckler, and not all of it is true. "We're here to supplement," said Cleckler. "We don't want to take over."
Cleckler also talked about the future of rural hospitals, of which he said roughly 60 were closed nationally in 2014, and 256 are on the verge of closing. Lack of resources, costs of Medicare and Medicaid, and difficulties with attracting quality caregivers all contributed to those closings. DCMH is looking at innovative ways to remain viable and attract the best health care providers it can find.
In an effort to remain independent, DCMH has in the last few months partnered with area hospitals including Montrose Memorial and Gunnison Valley Health to share resources, staff and ideas, said Cleckler. The hospital is also considering other area hospitals for partnerships, and the Mayo Clinic has offered to provide resources and expertise.
"We're being proactive," said Cleckler. "We don't want a large hospital to take over."
Cleckler said hospitals are moving away from traditional ways of treating illness and are focusing more on wellness. "It's truly a shift in mentality."
Cleckler said he worked at eight other hospitals before coming to DCMH, where he has worked for seven years, and said the staff is "phenomenal."
DCMH is publicly owned and receives funding through a special taxing district. Its five-member board is elected by the citizens. Current board members include David Lane, board chairman; Bill Hellman, vice chairman; John Breitnauer, secretary/treasurer; Jim Briscoe; and Jeffrey Berkosky, M.D.
For more information, visit www.deltahospital.org, or call 874-7681.