Helen Casey: 'Not closing nursing home'

TONASKET – North Valley Hospital Board of Commissioners Chair Helen Casey sought to quell rumors that the district’s Long Term Care facility was being targeted for closure, stating unequivocally at the Thursday, Aug. 14, board meeting that that was not something that was on the table.

There had been discussion at the last board meeting in July (see below) about the reduction of available beds in the nursing home that has been underway since November, to the current working level of 40, and whether or not to bank or relinquish the now inactive beds.

“(Wednesday) I had a call and today I had a call, that said ‘Please do not close the Long Term Care,'” Casey said. “I said, ‘We’re not closing the Long Term Care.’ The rumor mill is out there, for whatever the reason.”

CEO Linda Michel said she’d had a similar experience, though she’d also heard from a doctor that had heard that NVH would be adding beds to the nursing home.

“There’s all kinds of rumors out there,” she said.

“We are not closing the nursing home,” Casey said. “Be sure and tell your friends and neighbors that.”

Looking ahead

Michel shared a presentation that gave an overview of the effects of changes in health care law, specifically referencing Washington State House Bill 2572 and Senate Bill 6312 that will dramatically change the structure of statewide public health care funding.

Significant changes, she said, include a new method of funding that dictates will be shared by the various health care entities within communities; and that funding will be determined more by value (including community-wide levels of health) rather than fee-for-service.

“They want to close the gap between preventative primary care, physical and behavioral health care, public health, social and human services, early learning education, and community development systems,” Michel said. “Right now they say we’re working in ‘silos’ (independent of one another)… They want us to collaborate so there is a more smooth process there, and each place that patient goes they know what’s happening.

“It is hard to change people’s habits; we’re going to be paid on how healthy someone is. So it’s going to be an uphill battle.”

Michel said that many of the details of executing the legislation have yet to be worked out by the state, making planning difficult.

“It’s going to be a huge change,” she said. “What scares us is how we’re going to get paid …

“I had about an hour conversation with (state Rep.) Shelly Short. I told her my concerns about this plan. My concerns were that on a committee of 45, there’s only two rural health people on there. That bothers me. If there’s 50 on the committee I want 25 to be rural health. There’s as many or more rural hospitals in the state than there are tertiary centers. That is a huge concern of mine … especially in the quality measures.”

She was particularly concerned that where statistical quality measures were concern – which will determine funding levels – the effects of one unsatisfactory measure are magnified at the rural level, where one patient represents a far larger percentage of the whole than at a suburban or urban facility.

“Rural (facilities) need to be measured differently than larger tertiary centers.”

As part of the presentation, Michel shared a short video put together by Dr. Barry Bittman regarding the state of U.S. health care (a functional, as opposed to political, discussion) that can be viewed at: http://youtu.be/y51eT-1-BE8.

Other items

Casey also spent some time reflecting on the passing of former NVH board commissioner Edna Schertenleib.

“She was very passionate about health care,” Casey said. “She leaves a legacy both to us and the community. She’ll truly be missed.”

The district has been sliding in and out of warrants every several days and as of Thursday’s meeting was just over $9,000 in debt to the county. NVH had about $12,000 cash on hand at the time of the previous meeting in July.

The commissioners next meet on Thursday, Aug. 28.

Catching up

Highlights of the Thursday, July 31, Board of Commissioners meeting (as culled from approved meeting minutes):

  • There was a lengthy discussion, led by Michel, Chief Financial Officer Helen Verhasselt and Long Term Care Director Linda Holden, on the topic of banking vs. relinquishing beds in the Extended Care facility. The commissioners, last November, voted to reduce the number of available beds to 40 from its previous level of 58, due to financial considerations. A big part of the issue is that the district is reimbursed by the state at rates set in 2007; a this point the legislature isn’t considering changes to those rates until 2016. No decision was made; the topic will be revisited at a future meeting.
  •  Regarding the warrants, Michel shared an email received from Okanogan County Treasurer Leah McCormack. While NVH was commended for its progress in getting out of warrants, McCormack clarified that once the district had built up its cash reserves, borrowing money from the county will no longer be an option. Future loans will have to come from other sources, McCormack said. Commissioner Teresa Hughes inquired about the boiler replacement project, which involves a $500,000 grant that is tied to the hospital contributing other funds; Verhasselt said that topic would be addressed at a future meeting.
  •  There was discussion regarding the commissioners’ public participation policy at its board meetings. The commissioners received a written proposal to amend the current policy; the topic will receive further discussion after the board has gone through Open Public Meeting Act training, outlining recent changes in public meeting laws.