Community Concerned About Hospital Finances and Cutbacks

Posted at: 05/20/2013 5:38 PM
Updated at: 05/21/2013 2:36 PM
By: Laurie Stribling

A usually small board meeting at Bigfork Valley Hospital was packed with community members with tough questions Monday.

About 50 people showed up at the hospital's Board of Director's meeting raising concerns about cuts in employee hours, the hospital's financial state and upcoming projects.

The district hospital uses taxpayer dollars and community members were concerned about how money is being spent.

"My opinion is that it may be prudent to delay construction until the financial condition becomes more positive," Bigfork resident Jack Hillstrom said.

Hillstrom said plans for new additions, like expanding the memory care wing, don't make financial sense at the moment. He's also worried the levy might go up.

Board Chair Gail Blackmer didn't deny some financial struggles.

"We've had a rough year, a rough calendar year, remember we're only into four months looking at financials," Blackmer said. "In the past, we've done remarkably well."

Blackmer said the board will look into the project again in the upcoming months, but she also said the addition is getting funding from two grants.

"We do know a lot about what we would like to build," Blackmer said. "We do need to look at the finances if we can do it."

Another issue brought up Monday, employee relations.

"This is a community district," Marcell resident Janice Ward said. "If the employees are unhappy and if they're losing their jobs, they are going to be leaving the community."

Last month, the hospital cut hours for 14 hospital employees including maintenance, physical therapy and dietician staff.

"With all these additions, why would you be cutting the maintenance staff?" Ward said. "They've had just as much garbage and everything else to do as before; it's not like their numbers were down."

While people at the meeting disagreed with the cutbacks, some thought it made sense. Blackmer said the change was made in response to business volume.  

"It's very difficult," Bigfork resident Nanci Zeine said. "You take it personally and you think they're after you, but they're not. It's economics."

Overall, officials said the hospital works off a $23.3 million budget. Of that money, $350,000 comes from taxpayers and $22.9 million comes from operating revenue.

At the end of the board meeting Monday, board members told the public their comments are always welcome. They urged people to keep making the board aware of their concerns.