By Lisa Young

Staff writer

Delta County Memorial Hospital leaders recently hosted an informational meeting and tour with members of the Colorado House of Representatives’ Health and Insurance Committee to talk about finances and future plans.

“It’s been a fantastic journey in the course of the last five months,” said DCMH CEO Matt Heyn who took the reins in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and a hospital system dealing with financial challenges.

As a former hospital financial officer, Heyn is confident the hospital will continue to grow and provide quality care for the community but to do that, he made sure to grab the ear of state representatives.

Reminding his guests that DCMH is the largest employer in the county with 600 employees, Heyn said the hospital is not a critical access hospital which keeps them gaining valuable government subsidized reimbursements.

DCMH does receive some level of cost-based reimbursement through the Rural Demonstration Project designed to help small rural hospitals that don’t qualify as a Critical Access Hospital.

“That (RDP) generates over $2 million to our bottom line, but we’re only good to participate until 2022,” Heyn said, adding he would like to see the hospital receive a Sole Community Hospital designation.

The Sole Community Hospitals (SCH) program started in 1983 supports small rural hospitals that “by reason of factors such as isolated location, weather conditions, travel conditions, or absence of other hospitals, is the sole source of inpatient hospital services reasonably available in a geographic location.”

“Organizations that have the designation (SCH) pay far less for drugs than organizations that don’t. The only way to get it is to prove that we’re taking care of a higher share of Medicaid (patients). And that threshold for us is 11% as a non-sole community hospital. It drops to 8% for a sole community hospital and we consistently run in the 9-10% range. So, we’re a little off, and we can’t quite hit it.”

“If I am advocating for special programs, we need to find Sole Community Hospital status and retain our Rural Demonstration Hospital program,” said Heyn adding that despite financial challenges the hospital is in “growth mode.”

“Who knows what the future will hold for the pandemic, but I feel that we are a stronger organization now than prior so, for that I guess that’s a silver lining,” he said. “We have to work maybe a little harder in rural America to keep our healthcare entities strong so we can take care of the communities we serve.”

With a can-do attitude, the hospital recently added a urology clinic and has plans to add an ear, nose and throat specialist and possibly a cardiology department. There was even a hint at purchasing a robot to do orthopedic surgeries.

Just recently, the hospital added a patient concierge service, revamped its website and is in the process of updating the front lobby in an effort to enhance the overall patient experience. However, the 49-bed hospital still faces a number of challenges including an aging Delta County population, a lingering pandemic and less money to operate on.

“One of the issues is being able to have our fair share of Medicaid reimbursements and to be a critical access hospital. Federal law says we need to be at least 25 miles from another critical access hospital. We are 24 miles away (from Montrose),” said Rep. Matt Soper, who also serves on the hospital’s board of directors.

Soper told his fellow legislators that 75% of the hospital’s payer mix comes from Medicaid or Medicare reimbursements. With 66% of Delta County residents on Medicaid the hospital has suffered a number of short falls over the years. In one year alone, the non-profit special district hospital “wrote off” $3 million in bad debt.

Jody Roeber, Chief Clinical Officer, told state legislators that 50% of Delta County’s population is well beyond the 25 mile limit to critical access care. That means with a population of roughly 31,000 with up to 15,000 patients have to travel between 45 minutes to over an hour to receive care at DCMH and even further to Montrose or Grand Junction.

“A community hospital is a vital force to the whole community. We’ve talked about what it would mean to lose this hospital ... you would basically lose health care or have very limited health care,” she said.

With the unpredictable novel coronavirus still lingering many rural Colorado hospitals are struggling to move forward with some communities fearing the worst.

“You touched on something that is near and dear to me... that’s these rural hospitals. We focus so much on health insurance, affordability and access to health coverage, but if we don’t have these facilities, it makes no difference. You can have the best health care policy in the world, but if you don’t have facilities, it’s useless,” said Rep. Perry Will, member of the house health and insurance committee.

Attending the meeting were members of the House Health & Insurance Committee Rep. Matt Soper; Rep. Yardira Caraveo (vice chair); Rep. Perry Will and Rep. Susan Lontine (chair) joined via phone. The House Health & Insurance Committee considers matters concerning state health programs and health insurance.

DCMH leaders at the meeting were Matt Heyn (CEO); Larry Vincent (CFO); Jody Roeber (CCO), Dr. Dory Funk, Chief of Staff and Jacque Davis, Marketing Director. Also, on hand for the morning event was Jean Ceriani, hospital board chair. Also attending the meeting was Rep. Julie McCluskie.

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