Editor’s note: This story was selected by our editorial staff as one of the top stories of 2021.
Early in 2021 Delta County Memorial Hospital (DCMH) began administering monoclonal antibody intravenous infusions for high risk COVID-19 individuals. The treatment fast tracked by the FDA uses synthetic antibodies that act to reduce the COVID virus’s ability to get into the cell and replicate.
“We are very excited to be among the first of only several hospitals on the Western Slope offering preventative treatments for patients with a new diagnosis of COVID who are at a high risk for disease progression,” said Dr. Sara Knutson, pulmonologist and medical planning director for the DCMH Incident Command Team.
A few weeks after the announcement on the monoclonal treatments, Delta County Memorial Hospital and 13 county-wide clinics began rebranding to Delta Health. The effort estimated to cost roughly half-million dollars was halted due to financial stressors.
“Historically the community has perceived healthcare here as the hospital and we have so much more than a hospital at this point. We provide health care through the main hospital, 13 different clinics and a home health agency that are spread across the county so, we’re bigger thus the tag line, ‘A County-Wide Healthcare System,’” said CEO Matt Heyn.
Like numerous rural hospitals and clinics across the nation, in 2021 Delta Health continued to face critical financial concerns exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The county-wide healthcare system was forced to shift gears resulting in staff reduction and the consolidation of clinics.
Layoffs or “right-sizing” resulted in roughly 30 employees (less than 5% of overall staff) losing their jobs while two clinics were absorbed into the system to reduce costs.
Last year (2020), Delta Health and its clinics recorded an operating loss of $11.5 million, roughly $1 million per month. In 2019 the operating loss was nearly half that amount at $4.1 million.
“One thing to note on the $11.5 million loss is it doesn’t include the COVID stimulus dollars from the CARES Act so, that would bring our loss closer to about $5 million on the year which is still not great from an operating standpoint,” Heyn said.
Towards the end of 2021, Delta Health officials traveled to Washington, D.C. seeking support from Colorado leaders to help shore up a second bid to obtain Sole Community Hospital status.
“For us, Sole Community Hospital is a lifeline. If we’re going to remain viable in the community long term then obtaining this status is something that is of utmost importance to the organization,” said Heyn.
So far in 2021, the special district hospital has lost roughly $3 million dollars; however, Sole Community Hospital status would net about $3 to 4 million dollars a year in additional Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, essentially eliminating the loss.
In the meantime, Heyn said hospital leadership is considering seeking a sales tax increase in May; however, the first priority is to reach out to CMS.
“We’re looking at all facets of trying to make this community hospital financially viable and Sole Community Hospital is one and a tax initiative would be second and that’s really where we’re going to need the community’s support if we go down that road,” he said.
Lisa Young is a staff writer for the Delta County Independent.