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Hospital chief talks about local, national healthcare concerns

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Photo by Kami Collins Cynthia Hines listens as DCMH CEO Jason Cleckler updates a capacity crowd at last week's town hall meeting. He spoke about the progress of the Hotchkiss and Paonia medical clinics, as well as current challenges in healthcare. He sai

A capacity crowd showed up for a town hall meeting last week in Hotchkiss where Jason Cleckler, CEO of Delta County Memorial Hospital, spoke about both local and national health care issues. Over 60 people gathered for the nearly two hour presentation and Q&A session that Crawford resident Cynthia Hines organized in an effort to spur the community into action to help address health care concerns on both the local and national level.

In her opening remarks, Hines spoke about the broken Affordable Care Act. "I think we can agree that it needs fixing," she said. In speaking with Rep. Scott Tipton and Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, Hines said their plans to fix the ACA -- to improve access to care and to lower both the overall cost of care and of insurance premiums -- are good goals, but are not addressed in the current proposal to fix the ACA. "Based on what I understand about what's been proposed to change the Affordable Care Act, it does none of that," she said. "So, that leaves us with the prospect that it's up to us. We have to decide what we want them to do on our behalf. We have to tell them what to do for us. Because they don't seem to have good answers. We're here tonight to begin figuring this out."

The bulk of Cleckler's presentation centered on health care reform: what's working, what isn't working and what changes he said he would like to see. He spoke about the recent community assessment survey the hospital completed, and the three pillars of care the community has identified as priorities: access, affordability and increased mental health services. He also addressed the hospital's plans for the Hotchkiss and Paonia clinics.

He complimented Hotchkiss Mayor Wendell Koontz and the town council for their work in helping the hospital secure the land on which the new clinic is being built and go through the local permitting process. Ground was broken in December on that clinic and construction should be complete in July with an opening in mid-August. That clinic will be staffed with a nurse practitioner and three family physicians. In addition, the hospital is actively working to integrate mental health care services into all of its clinics, and Cleckler said they are currently in the process of hiring a mental health care provider who will see patients in the Hotchkiss clinic.

In Paonia, the hospital is renovating the former bank building on Grand Avenue near the town hall. The Paonia clinic will work collaboratively with the Hotchkiss clinic and will complement the services there. The Paonia clinic will offer same day and walk-in appointments and will be open during some non-typical business hours, allowing for after hours or possibly weekend appointments. Cleckler said the staff there will deal with minor to moderate illnesses and injuries. The hospital is in the process of hiring providers for this clinic, most likely nurse practitioners and physician's assistants. The facility should be finished and open by early summer.

One of Hines' goals was to see how citizens can help both the hospital and help address the national health care crisis. Cleckler encouraged the crowd to really support the hospital -- seek your medical care here, not in another community. On a state level, he and the board are working closely to support Senate Bill 267, and if citizens are so inclined, he said it would help for individuals to reach out to our state representatives and senators, specifically Senator Kerry Donovan at this time.

SB267 would move the hospital provider fee out of TABOR-restricted funds into an enterprise fund. "At a state level, this has more immediate ramifications than anything that may or may not happen with Affordable Care Act," he explained.

The hospital provider fee is a pool of money that each hospital within the state pays into. That pool is matched with federal funds, and then redistributed to hospitals that see "more than their share" of Medicaid and Medicare patients. DCMH used to get about $2 million annually from this fee. Last year, the fee was cut by $700,000, and Cleckler said that if the state legislature is successful in cutting more from the fee, DCMH can expect another similar cut, bringing the total cuts to about $1.4 million. "This is a big safety net for many hospitals," he said. Those kinds of cuts make it nearly impossible for the hospital to reinvest in things like recruitment of new doctors, maintaining competitive salary and benefits for existing staff, and new technology.

The state is looking to cut the provider fee in an effort to protect other things, like funding for schools and roads, Cleckler said. By moving the hospital provider fee to an enterprise fund, the previous cuts will be restored, the fee will be protected from future cuts, and things like schools and road projects will also be safer, since those projects won't be competing for funds with the hospital provider fee.

Cleckler and Hines encourage everyone who is concerned to get in touch with our state representatives and senators, starting with Senator Donovan. She can be reached at 303-866-4871 or kerry.donovan.sd5@gmail.com. Senator Michael Bennet can be reached at 202-224-5852; Senator Cory Gardner at 202-224-5941; Representative Scott Tipton at 202-225-4761; and Representative Millie Hamner at 303-866-2952.

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DCMH, health, Hotchkiss
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