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At a special meeting Wednesday, the Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center Board approved expanding part-time medical services with another provider outside the hospital district to Saguache and Cotopaxi, as well as providing recreational vehicle spaces and hookup at the hospital campus as housing for some employees and patients.

Hospital addresses employee housing needs

The six Recreational Vehicle (RV) parking spaces at the hospital campus, complete with electrical, water and sewer hookups will cost more than $326,000.

The expenditure, an addition to the Outpatient Pavilion and Lab expansion, is projected as necessary for short-term living space for new and existing employees and contractors. Currently, managers said as many as 20 staff members are sleeping in vehicles, with and without campers, parked in the employee parking lots or local campgrounds, if available.

After sometime spirited discussion, a couple of board members commented on the cost of the project, Dr. Harry Payton noting that the project cost amounted about $55,000 per RV space.

Board chair Debbie Farrell was the lone dissenting vote on the proposal, saying “I don’t want an RV park in our parking lot, and I’m horrified at the idea that somebody from the hospital has to go out and knock on doors of RVs at seven o’clock in the morning. And then call a tow truck to go tow somebody out … who won’t move – and you will get that.”

Farrell said in light of the many things the hospital needs to do, she would instead save money toward projects that are “more mission-critical.”

CEO Bob Morasko countered by saying for some employees local affordable housing was already a challenge, and that some part-time employees already live in RVs, or other vehicles because of a lack of affordable temporary living quarters in Salida.

Morasko said, “We have a lot of employees now that are coming from outside the area and affordable housing is not the solution for them. They’re living in Villa Grove, Saguache, Cotopaxi, Westcliffe. They’re living in Leadville, and we have people coming as far as Fairplay…. I don’t think that they’re going to be candidates for affordable housing. But I think they’re candidates for bringing their RVs down and staying in it during their shift.”

He also commented that some employees who do stay in an RV now are using so-called “buddy heaters” using kerosene during cold weather because there are no hookups. That he feels is definitely unsafe.

During the discussion, it was pointed out that about 20 employees from outside the community already utilize temporary housing. The space would also serve visiting and contracted medical service providers. It was noted that on occasion, hospital patients and families in large RVs had occupied multiple spaces in the patient parking lots.

Users of the RV spaces will be required to check-in with facilities staff during regular business hours or a nursing supervisor after hours and on weekends. The employee occupants will be charged a fee and would be liable for required state and federal income tax factors. Occupants in the space will be required to follow all posted rules and regulations and sign waivers of liability for damage, loss or injury. The construction of the spaces and utilities, Morasko said, should be completed by fall.

Expansion of medical services to Saguache and Cotopaxi

In another move looking toward the medical center’s future, the board also approved an expansion of medical services provided outside the district, specifically to Saguache and Cotopaxi.

Some board members asked about what criteria should be used in deciding to provide some services outside the hospital district, and to what extent.

Board member Jeff Post said the hospital “could get in trouble” providing expensive services outside the district and called for an annual review of any such agreement.

Morasko pointed out that HRRMC was the only hospital within 65 miles and that expanding services was important to the medical center’s success. Some specialists at HRRMC are underutilized compared with industry standards. 
The immediate area’s population of about 20,000 people “is not enough people to support a regional hospital,” he said.

“So we have to have some strategy where we can pull people in from outside of our district to support these specialties. So we have enough specialists so that they can be on call….”

The board approved the move, with some members wanting timely reviews of the clinic services and an “exit strategy” in case providing the services into the future becomes unfeasible.

Elsewhere, Morasko reported that Colorado Springs Cardiology had pulled out of a provider services agreement and will instead be renting space in the nearby Wentz Foot and Ankle Building. As a result, Pueblo Cardiology Associates has agreed to provide services and started doing so on July 1.

Morasko also reported HRRMC is exploring providing pharmacy services to patients from the Custer Colorado Medical Center once the hospital opens its retail pharmacy.

He also reported that Chaffee County EMS was still refusing to transport psychiatric patients from the hospital Emergency Department. There have been collaborative meetings are continuing with Solvista Health on filling gaps in behavioral health needs, with “considerable time” spent discussing the need to develop local inpatient behavioral health services. Solvista Health CEO Brian Turner was to consult with the state on how allocated funds can be utilized for that purpose and report back at the August meeting.

Vice President of Human Resources Barb Lutz reported the employee turnover rate from July of 2018 to June of this year was 17 percent with a benchmark of 18.5 percent turnover on a rolling 12-month comparison. Five employees left employment in June, and the hospital hired 15 new employees during the month.