The Estes Park Health Board of Directors addressed citizen concerns and dispelled rumors about the local health system at an in-person and online meeting held at Town Hall on Wed., Nov. 9.
One of the biggest factors in Estes Park Health’s operating deficit estimated at about $8 million this fiscal year is the cost of contract labor due to staffing shortages.
“The first nine months, we were $2.8 million over budget for contract labor,” cited Chief Financial Officer Dave Timpe. “The cost for contract labor was $369,000 in September alone.”
This summer, the EPH Board voted on 14 strategic changes to try to staunch the monetary bleeding. Those changes included adding some services as well as transferring some to partners in other communities. At the end of 2023, the birthing center will close and EPH will no longer offer inpatient pediatric services.
By adding services that align with a community needs assessment, EPH predicts the revenue increase and expense reductions will yield about $7 million.
The CFO also reported that EPH has enough cash on hand to operate for 144 days (about five months) if revenues dried up.
“The last two years have taught us that trying to predict the future with any accuracy is a tough thing to do,” said Board Chairman David Batey. “We are looking at options to keep high quality care sustainable in Estes Park.”
Vice Chairman Drew Webb stressed that the Board is committed to keeping the hospital open and financially sustainable.
“The world of health care is changing dramatically,” Webb said. “We are trying to figure out where we fit in now and in the future. Hospitals our size our going bankrupt and closing every day. Some hospitals in Colorado have only five or six days cash on hand. We don’t want to be one of those. Our objective here is the long term security of the hospital. With the initiatives you have seen, that’s short term. There are other initiatives that are being considered. All options are on the table. We are going to do all we can to make sure this hospital is here forever. It may mean affiliating with someone else down the line.”
Board member Diane Muno explained that EPH is trying to determine which service lines are best to delivered by the local health care entity.
“We are not trying to be all things to all people,” Muno stressed. “We have to decide what services belong here and what services belong elsewhere. We consider the cost, the value, the return on investment and what the community needs. I would say to people, ‘Be part of the solution.’ Disinformation on social media is not helpful. Help us spread the truth, not what people ‘think’ is happening.”
One rumor the Board addressed is the notion that the hospital is no longer offering home health care and hospice and home care services.
“We have no intention of stopping this service line,” stated Chief Nursing Officer Pat Samples. “This community needs these services. We have never alluded that we would not have this. It’s part of the continuum of care. People recover at a better rate at home than they do in the hospital.”
EPH is trying to find another organization to partner with, but the organization is not going to stop those services.
Board member Steve Alper pointed out that this year’s changes are not “the ultimate solution” to EPH’s financial challenges.
“We are looking at many different things,” Alper said. “We’re aware of the trends. We have an open mind.”
Batey also noted that the hospital not only discusses issues within the community, but consults with external experts as well.
Board votes on insurance program
The EPH Board voted unanimously to decline participation in the Colorado Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI) program. EPH would have had to pay out $95,000 for their portion of the program per year.
Board members noted that EPH also does not have the resources to administer the program and would have to pay for that.
Estes Park Schools, the Town of Estes Park and the Fire Department have also opted out of the FAMLI program for now.
Other issues addressed
The Board noted that Larimer County is once again in the “high” transmission category for COVID. That coupled with a high number of cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is creating a high level of respiratory illness in the Estes Park community.
Ninety-eight percent of the staff at EPH has had flu shots. The other 2% are exempt.
The Board held a 30-minute community conversation to answer questions and address concerns from the people who attended the monthly meeting.
Dr. Brian Tseng who spoke for a group of local physicians told the Board, “We need out of the box, unconventional thinking. We need intelligent affiliations and partnerships. I don’t think we have much time.”
Batey explained that the board is not waiting to consider all options to keep Estes Park Health afloat.