BY KYNLI SMITH
It takes a village to expand a local hospital. That was clear when community members, local, state and government officials gathered for the ribbon-cutting ceremony at South Big Horn County Hospital on Friday. All of them played a role in making the expansion happen.
Gov. Matt Mead, representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Wyoming legislators, local government officials and community members huddled together in the ambulance bay of the new emergency room to escape the harsh winds and smoke blowing down from the wildfires in Canada to celebrate, meet those who made the expansion possible and tour the facility.
The ribbon cutting was unique with the multiple ribbons presented and cut by different people who had a role in making the expansion possible, from community, to state and federal officials-all took turns cutting a different stand of red ribbon.
“This is great partnership; it is local partnership, a state partnership and a federal partnership. All of which were critical in getting this done,” said Mead. “But none of this matters without the grit and determination of this community and of the board and so today were are celebrating this facility, but we are also celebrating what it takes to get a facility up like this and that is that never-say-die, Wyoming attitude to never give up.”
With the completion of the new expansion that includes impatient services, an emergency room, kitchen and storage, the hospital finished phase two of its renovations which began in 2010 with the laboratory and radiology.
The second phase of the project cost close to $10 million and was paid through more than $2 million in hospital funds, a 3.9 million loan from the USDA, a 2.9 million grant from the State Loan and Investment Board and $150,000 from the Big Horn County consensus block grant.
“This phase here was made possible by money from the district which comes from revenue generated by patient services, also some tax money and money we also got from the state of Wyoming,” said South Big Horn County Hospital board chairman Jeff Grant. “But the big thing that closed the gap was the money we received from the USDA. So it was a partnership that made this occur and that really is a pretty amazing thing.”
Grant also took time to recognize former CEO Jackie Claudson who remains in a Colorado facility recovering from what was described as a medical event that occurred in late December. Hospital staff filmed the ribbon cutting ceremony and open house to send to Claudson.
“One person who is not here who needs to be recognized is Jackie Claudson,” said Grant. “She played a huge part in the vision of getting us to where we are today. We are all disappointed she can’t be here. She is recovering in Colorado, but we hope to see her again soon. “
Claudson, who served as the hospital’s CEO for 21 years, was instrumental when the facility closed in 1994 and reopened as the first critical access hospital in the state in 2002.
“In Wyoming we have wonderful quality of life,” said Mead “But you tell a parent or business owner that if something happens you have to get in pickup truck in January and drive 50 miles all of the sudden it changes. And so when we think about this facility having been closed and not only reopened but expanded and made better, it is wonderful thing for the residents here, a wonderful thing for visitors as well that travel through Wyoming, and it is wonderful thing for economic development as well. Having a facility like this makes a real difference.”
Community members who attended the open house remember when the hospital closed and the fear of having to drive long distances to receive emergency medical care.
“It was scary when we didn’t have a hospital,” said Serena Lipp. “I had kids at the time and my son was bucked off a horse while branding an hour away from town on the mountain. His arm was just hanging there and I was scared to death while driving 55 miles to a hospital in Cody.”
Sen. Gerald Geis, R-Worland, added the importance of community healthcare and hospitals while on a tour of the new expansion.
“Why go anywhere else when you have this here?” said Geis. “You can’t beat it. And I know you will get better service here than in a big hospital.”
Mead added after a tour of the expansion that the recent predictions from the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group would affect the Department of Health. The CREG estimates that Wyoming’s revenue will decrease more than previously predicted. Mead has asked state agencies to cut their proposed general fund budgets by 8 percent for the coming 2017 fiscal year.
“I don’t see how it won’t affect everyone,” Mead said.
He added that he would like to revisit Medicaid expansion in the next legislative session, which would offer healthcare coverage to thousands of Wyomingites including those who are coal workers that have been recently laid off.
Some critics of Medicaid expansion claim that expanding it would hurt small hospitals like South Big Horn County Hospital, but Mead said that is not the case.
“The hospitals are actually for Medicaid expansion,” Mead said.
As for the future and the next round of upgrades to South Big Horn County Hospital, the board hopes to move forward with phase three soon which will include a new clinic. Phase four of the project would include the existing hospital to be demolished and phase 5 would include adding new administration offices, physical therapy, reception and main entrance.
“At the end of the rainbow is not gold but partnership,” said USDA Rural Housing Service Administrator Tony Hernandez. “We invest in people, not buildings.”
Board members said at last month’s meeting that they hope to visit with the USDA to talk about the possibility of another loan.
BREAK OUT BOX WITH PHOTO
After the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday, South Big Horn County Hospital staff revealed a statute of “The Lady with the Lamp,” which depicts Florence Nightingale. Dr. David Fairbanks, whose grandfather was the sculptor of the piece, and his wife donated the statue to the hospital.
During the Crimean War she walked the halls checking on her patients at night she carried a lamp and that is how she became known as the lady with the lamp.
New nurses still recite the Nightingale pledge when they receive their pins at their graduation.
“Nurses today are thought of as being kind and helpful and they have an impact on sick and the hurting,” said hospital CNO Yvonne Bargeron. “Today, as we unveil this, it is National Nurses Day. It is a day that is set aside nationally to honor the nursing profession. Nurses Week also starts today and ends May 12, which is Florence Nightingale’s birthday.
“South Big Horn County has a wealth of very dedicated and very qualified nursing staff and we take great pride in honoring our nurses on this day with this new hospital and our qualified nursing staff we are prepared to move onward and upward to provide quality care to not only locals but all the surrounding communities.”