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Signs of an early spring? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Holyoke Enterprise   
Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow this Groundhog Day in Pennsylvania, a prediction of an early spring. Meanwhile, the Midwest got pounded by winter storm Kayla, with any signs of spring buried deep under wet, heavy snow.

High winds and snow began Monday, Feb. 1, with 6.2 inches that day, according to official Holyoke weather observer Dan Kafka. Annual events like the Chamber of Commerce Gala and the Friends of the Library Salad Luncheon had to be postponed. More snow drifted overnight, with blizzard weather continuing Tuesday. Road closures and dangerous conditions gave the school (as well as much of the town) a snow day.

Many local families were content to sip a hot drink and cuddle up for a movie day Tuesday. Will Krieger, pictured above, takes his chances and ventures out
into the snowdrifts at his home in Holyoke.

Above, City of Holyoke crews were out in full force to clear the snow, pictured here just north of the Interocean Avenue and Denver Street intersection.
—Johnson Publications photo

Debbie Brandt shares a photo of the drift blocking the view to her backyard.

Snowdrifts hang off the roof at Linda Jelden’s house.

Holyoke Enterprise February 4, 2016

Phone surcharge upped 50 cents to fund 911 services PDF Print E-mail
Written by Darci Tomky   

A 50-cent surcharge increase for 911 services in Phillips County has been approved by the Public Utilities Commission.

County commissioners reported at their Jan. 29 meeting that the phone line surcharge increase from $1.25 to $1.75 will not take effect until all providers receive a notice. They anticipate residents will see a change on their phone bills in April or May.

The surcharge will help pay for increased costs in 911 dispatch staffing and an estimated $165,000 upgrade to the Phillips County Communications Center console scheduled in the next two years.

The request for the increase came from the Phillips County 911 Authority Board. The surcharge started at 70 cents per line per month in 1991. It was raised to $1.25 in January 2007 and has now been raised to $1.75.


Lock is new chairman

The board of Phillips County commissioners began the new year by reorganizing the board Jan. 11. Commissioner Don Lock was elected chairman for 2016.


Courthouse repairs need evaluated

On the north side of the courthouse, the roof of the coal bin is failing and in need of repair. The county had previously used the space to store records, but they had to be moved because it was leaking.

Commissioners have approved hiring engineer Lou Harmon to evaluate the repairs needed. They noted that they want to keep the space intact since the courthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places.


Scholarship gets support

Last month, the commissioners heard a presentation from Jay Lee, president of Northeastern Junior College, and Kathy Reinhardt, NJC Foundation executive director, about the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative.

Commissioners explained that scholarships will be available for students from Phillips County, but the program requires a challenge match of $6,500. That amount can be matched by donations from county individuals or entities.

Commissioner Joe Kinnie said the county will be providing a letter of support for the program but won’t necessarily be supporting the program monetarily this year.


Equipment approved

Phillips County is set to lease three John Deere 72G maintainers from 4 Rivers Equipment in Fort Collins. Commissioners said they traded in the oldest machine, a 1995 Cat 140H, which will pay for the first year’s lease on all three maintainers.

The purchase of a new spray head for the weed and pest sprayer was approved last month. The approximate cost is $8,400.

The board also approved an application prepared by weed and pest manager Kerri Dolleshall for funds for noxious weed spraying in 2016.


Other business

In other business in the month of January, commissioners:

—adopted a new revised emergency operations plan presented by Bob Heldenbrand, Phillips County emergency manager. The board also approved a contract with Heldenbrand for 2016 emergency management services.

—received a resignation from landfill operator Gib Becker and approved hiring Randy Owens to fill the vacant position, effective Feb. 1.

—approved hiring Jennifer Philips for the victims assistance coordinator position, effective Jan. 11. She replaces Kay Schmidt.

—heard an update from CSU Extension agents Tracy Trumper and Kindra Plumb on the Extension program and 4-H program.

Holyoke Enterprise February 4, 2016

MMH construction on time, on budget PDF Print E-mail
Written by Karen Ortner   

On time, on budget and making great progress was the report after the Tuesday, Jan. 26, East Phillips County Hospital District board meeting and work session tour of the Melissa Memorial Hospital expansion project.

The board was treated to a thorough tour of the expanded areas and planned improvements, led by maintenance director and owner’s representative Barry Coyne and Chief Financial Officer Jason McCormick.

Newly constructed areas in progress include an ambulance enclosure on the northeast corner of MMH, which expands around the old carport-style overhang to make a larger, temperature-controlled area with more privacy.

A large waiting area added in the nook in the clinic-end of the building will not only provide more room for seating but more direct handicap-accessible access into the clinic as a new main entrance with power doors. Filling in the nook will also eliminate the vacuum effect that used to suck open the previous small hallway door to the outside whenever anything was happening in the emergency room on the other end of the building.

CFO Jason McCormick, pictured at left, and hospital board member Woody Woodhead discuss elements of the expansion project in what will soon be the new main clinic entrance to the west of the main hospital entrance of MMH. The door shown is temporary and will be replaced by handicap-accessible power doors when complete.

—Johnson Publications photo

A split sidewalk design will also ease travel from handicapped parking to the clinic.

The rural health clinic expansion to the west of the building will include new restrooms, a smaller waiting area and several new rooms that, while they will be plumbed and intended as exam rooms, could also have extra cabinets installed and be used as provider offices.

“It’s good not to get too fixated on what a room is now versus in a few years,” said McCormick to the board. The group was reminded how the original design had no provider or physician offices but common work areas instead for better communication among staff. The sentiment over the arrangement changed through the design process, and providers voiced concern over the lack of private offices.

Coyne explained how a room’s purpose could potentially change easily from exam room to office and back again over time, depending on the clinic’s needs. “That will be your call,” he told the board.

Other reassignments and improvements within MMH include a nuclear medicine lab, conversion of a procedure room into a regular patient room, group work areas and new hallways. A blood draw area is being built into the clinic end for labs, and a new door is being punched through to the existing lab on the hospital end, eliminating the three left turns previously necessary to find the room from the clinic.

The room next to the specialty clinic that used to hold hard-copy medical records (now unnecessary as they have been converted to digital) will be repurposed, and the additional spaces created through the rural health expansion and room reassignments will mean five additional rooms for a total of nine in the specialty clinic.

MMH looks forward to not only a continued influx in the rural health clinic but also plans to increase the amount and variety of specialty providers that come out to offer their services.

Hospital board members Sheila Gift and Angie Powell stand in the rural health clinic expansion, listening to maintenance director Barry Coyne as he explains the finished plans for the space.  

—Johnson Publications photo

The project is currently on time and, while certain budget items are over and others are under, within budget overall. “We’re still netting more credits than what our overages are,” said McCormick during the meeting.

Specific items that have been off-budget include the areas of civil drawings, which is $12,000 over budget; construction drawings, $3,000 over budget; framing and drywall, $20,000 under budget; and weather conditions, projected to be $20,000 over budget.

Weather conditions was an item specifically of concern to some members of the board, as much of this piece of the budget has gone to defrosting dirt to build foundation.

Member Woody Woodhead wanted to know why the construction project was begun in late fall to continue through the winter. McCormick explained that waiting until spring would have seen costs escalate overall, and the extra cost of defrosting dirt was still worth it due to overall savings.

A shared contingency fund of $100,000 between MMH and the Neenan Construction Company is also still available for unexpected costs.

The overall project offers much for staff and patients alike to look forward to as it continues into the spring. It is scheduled to be completed by July 1.

Holyoke Enterprise February 4, 2016

Local hospital brings billing back in-house PDF Print E-mail
Written by Karen Ortner   

Billing of self-pay balances will be brought back within the community, as announced by Melissa Memorial Hospital administration at the Tuesday, Jan. 26, East Phillips County Hospital District board meeting.

Continuing problems with the automated outside-party billing system that issues single-statement billing have accumulated to the point where it is more practical to return to the traditional model of separate statements for clinic and hospital services, which can be accomplished without outside services.

“In creating a single statement, it added a lot of complexity to an otherwise simple process,” explained CFO Jason McCormick. He described how the “OK, but not stellar” NextGen billing system used by MMH in combination with staff turnover does not work well when put into an automated system to produce a single statement.

“It’s going to keep breaking down on a regular basis, which leads to embarrassment and frustration for everyone involved,” said McCormick.

Last year’s main problem was delayed statement issuances, which led to complaints over the sudden receipt of expensive accumulated bills for some. This, in turn, led to more complaints of poor customer service from the company that issues the single statements, First Party Receivable Solutions. In the most recent snafu since the last board meeting, about 200 patients were accidentally issued duplicate statements from First Party.

In addition, NextGen has sold the hospital portion of their software to another company, and clinic and hospital billing systems will no longer be as compatible for combination into a single statement.

The news was reluctantly received by board members, who felt frustrated themselves after working so hard to gain the single-statement service for the community. Members felt that despite problems, the simplicity of a single statement had been received well by the community.

McCormick, who has been working in various health care facilities for over 20 years, explained that hospitals and clinics have very different billing systems for their services. Generally, only very large facilities have recently begun issuing single statements. Separate statements is still the traditional model for most facilities.

Despite the loss of the single-statement convenience, several advantages will compensate for the return to writing two checks instead of one, including:

—more accurate information reflected on statements.

—the reassurance that patients will receive their bills in a timely manner.

—better control over billing, as closer attention will be paid by MMH employees than an automated system.

—financial savings, as MMH will no longer be paying for the services of First Party billing.

—in-house customer service regarding billing.

The only cost resulting from the change for MMH will be the hiring of another employee to help handle customer service calls, a cost far outweighed by the savings from no longer paying for First Party’s services.

The transition back to in-house billing will take about two months, during which patients will continue to receive single statements from First Party as they have been. No balances will be sent to collections during this time.

McCormick estimated four months until billing and accounts receivable is back where it should be.

“We greatly appreciate everyone’s patience and feedback as we tried to make the single statement work over this past year,” he said.


2015 shows shifts in patient visits

In other matters reported at the Tuesday meeting, total patient days for the hospital in 2015 were fairly steady overall, down by only 10 compared to 2014 (991 days from 1001). Days for observation were up considerably from 2014 to within 14 days of 2012 and 2013 numbers, and outpatient registrations were up an impressive 418.

Much of the outpatient registration number comes from more people taking advantage of the specialty clinic and imaging.

Clinic visits were down from 7,317 in 2014 to 7,183 in 2015. However, in the month of December an influx of totally new patients was evident.

“We have lots of great nurse practitioners right now that have been received very well,” said board member Angie Powell.


Hospital to consider increase in telemedicine

Besides well-received nurse practitioners and increases in imaging use, MMH could potentially expand services offered even more by taking advantage of telemedicine, which uses cameras and the Internet to essentially Skype with a specialty doctor in another location for assessment without having to travel.

The item was reported as part of the review of MMH Policy 1.1 — Relief from Acute and Chronic Conditions.

The practice of telemedicine is on the rise in health care overall and is more practical than ever considering the amount of technology already involved in monitoring and assessing patients.

One method so common at MMH that it is not even considered “telemedicine” anymore is the sending of X-ray images taken at the hospital to a facility in Cheyenne, Wyo., for analysis.

Another method of telemedicine currently used by the hospital is the Tele Stroke program, in which a person suspected to be having a stroke can be analyzed immediately by a specialist via camera before deciding to life-flight or treat them.

Considering that the damage caused by a stroke increases exponentially with every 10-minute period that passes, but the medicine to treat a stroke would also be extremely damaging if misapplied, there is no time to waste in accurately assessing a patient.

“There is a need for telemedicine, but it needs to be done in a safe and secure manner,” said McCormick of the practice. “It would allow for a higher level of care quicker in a rural community.”

Telemedicine not only helps with faster care in emergency situations but could potentially allow MMH to offer more specialty and sub-specialty services with far less travel involved. Special tools such as stethoscopes that allow both a physically present nurse and a virtually present specialty doctor to hear breathing and heartbeats are also used in such practices.


Lack of EMS personnel a concern

Another item related to emergency care discussed at the Jan. 26 board meeting was the scarcity of emergency medical technicians. Currently, only about five volunteer EMTs are available during the day and only two are available for night shifts, as reported by EMS coordinator Sharon Greenman.

The aid of police and volunteer firemen has been imperative in helping make sure enough respondents are able and available in an emergency situation. When ambulatory help must come from Sterling or Greeley, hours are added to the time it takes to get proper care to a patient after counting the travel time to the scene and back to the hospital.

“We’re hoping for five more from a recent class,” Greenman said, adding that many facilities in the area are suffering from the same lack of personnel, whether paid or volunteer.

New CEO Trampas Hutches responded that there are a few different models of organizing EMS personnel to examine and see what fits the organization.


Other business

In other business at the Jan. 26 meeting, the board:

—passed two resolutions, one shifting banking authority to CEO Hutches and Chief Nursing Officer Pat Notter and the other adopting Andrea Calhoon as treasurer, Megan Sprague as secretary and Hutches as president of the MMH corporation.

—approved the reappointment of Kelby Bethards, M.D., to family medicine; Cynthia Grybski, M.D., and Laura Marinello, P.A., to cardiology; Robert Kahn, M.D., Ravinder Sohal, M.D., and Bradley Tipler, M.D., to radiology; Carol Langdoc, M.D., to ear, nose and throat; Michael Stone, M.D., to oncology and Jeffrey Wagner, M.D., to teleneurology; and the regular appointment of James Yakel, M.D., to podiatry.

—heard the MMH Foundation report from Steve Young that Paula Carper, Diana Baeza and Jessie Ruiz are new MMHF board members.

—held a 56-minute executive session to discuss strategic planning and personnel matters.

Holyoke Enterprise February 4, 2016