Officials discuss coordination of health care delivery

The delivery of coordinated health care services was the topic of discussion at a November 20 meeting between state and local health care officials in Salt Lake City.

The San Juan Health Service District and Utah Navajo Health Systems (UNHS) both provide separate clinic operations in the county. In addition, the anticipated opening of Blue Mountain Hospital in 2008 means that there will be two hospitals in the county.

San Juan County Commissioner Lynn Stevens said that the meeting covered, “in significant detail”, the services provided in San Juan County by UNHS.

Stevens described the meeting as “collaborative, cordial and cooperative.”

Commissioner Bruce Adams said that he was excited about the information received at the meeting and encouraged by the feeling of cooperation.

San Juan Health Service Board members Doug Allen, Burton Black, Toni Turk and Steve Simpson were in attendance, along with Commissioners Adams and Stevens.

Craig Preston, who has been offered the CEO position at the San Juan Health Service District, also attended. Representing UNHS were Chairman Wilfred Jones and CEO Donna Singer. They were joined by state officials, including Utah Department of Health (UDOH) Director Dr. David Sundwall and Dr. Marc E. Babitz, Director of the Division of Health Systems Improvement.

While discussing the meeting at the November 26 commission meeting, County Commissioners said that the State of Utah has agreed to work with the federal government to reconsider a vague rule that may keep San Juan Hospital and Blue Mountain Hospital from both receiving Critical Access Hospital (CAH) status.

The CAH status is not available to two hospitals if they are in close proximity to one another. However, a ruling by the federal government that “mountainous terrain” exists between Monticello and Blanding would allow both hospitals to have the increased reimbursement that accompanies CAH status.

Commissioner Adams said “There is more than a glimmer of hope” that the CAH ruling could be changed.

Blue Mountain Hospital is currently under construction in Blanding. Commissioner Stevens said that it may be July, 2008 or later before the hospital is ready to open. A hospital has to be operational before it can apply for CAH status.

While the new hospital was discussed, the commissioners stated that the majority of the meeting was spent talking about Community Health Centers rather than hospitals.

The San Juan County Commission passed a resolution in September, 2006 that the San Juan Hospital in Monticello would close upon the opening of Blue Mountain Hospital. Commissioner Stevens said that the resolution was necessary in order for the new hospital to secure funding guarantees from the federal government.

Despite the resolution, Commissioners have expressed a desire to avoid closure of San Juan Hospital. They quoted state officials as stating that either hospital alone couldn’t meet the bed space requirements necessary for a county the size of San Juan County.

On nearly one night in three in recent years, San Juan Hospital has more than eight patients, which will be the capacity of Blue Mountain Hospital.

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