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CI-75 prompts Medical Center to
put building program to vote

by Suzanne Vernon
For the Pathfinder
January 21, 1999

After studying the effects of CI-75, which passed during the November election, Seeley Swan Medical Center board members have decided to ask voters to approve funding for a new medical center in Seeley Lake.

Medical Center trustees, in collaboration with Northern Rockies Medical Services, a subsidiary of St. Patrick Hospital, have been seeking more than $400,000 in grants and low interest loans to finance construction of a new Medical Center facility in Seeley Lake. The loans would be paid back with increased lease fees charged to Northern Rockies Medical Services, which currently leases and manages the Seeley Swan Medical Center.

During a recent meeting, board chairman Mary Ann Morin explained that because the Seeley Swan Medical Center is owned by the Seeley Swan Hospital District, voter approval of any potential financial obligation is required, even if the obligation would not require an increase in taxes.

Trustees have contacted Deputy County Attorney, Mike Sehestedt for advice on when to bring the issue before voters, since fiscal elections may now be held only in conjunction with June or November general elections, Morin explained.

In other business during the January meeting, trustees learned that the Medical Center was slow to pay local businesses for goods and services provided in conjunction with a recent remodeling project. Medical Center staff discussed the subject during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Ben Lindeman, physician's assistant at the clinic, said that he was aware of late payments to local providers. He attributed the problems to "red tape and multiple levels of administration" at Tamaracks Management, Inc., (TMI) which currently contracts with St. Patrick Hospital to provide accounting services for rural clinics and affiliates. The late payments have been remedied, according to Lindeman, but other problems related to the current administrative system keep showing up, he said. TMI took over accounting services at the clinic in May of 1998, he said.

Medical Center board member, Jack Copps, also pointed out that TMI has failed to provide current financial reports to the board.

Dan Reiner, director of Northern Rockies Medical Services, acknowledged the problems, and said that work has begun on a new organizational structure which should improve service within the next 30 days.

Reiner encouraged board members and staff to contact him at the first sign of problems locally. "The reality is, I'm sometimes out of the loop," Reiner explained, adding that he takes "full responsiblity" for management of the rural health clinics, including Seeley Swan Medical Center, and reiterated that problems with day-to-day operations would be solved with the reorganization.

Ben Lindeman also updated the board on 1998 income at the clinic. He said that the gross income at the clinic was $210,000 for 1998, which represents a 25% increase over 1997. The last four months of 1998, he said, saw an increase of 60% when compared to the same time period of 1997. Gross income at the clinic was $19,000 in December alone, he said, and medical providers at the clinic saw 40 new patients that month.

Though Lindeman was pleased with the growth of the clinic, which he feels reflects community support of the facility, he expressed concern over the recent 10% across-the-board wage cut at Pyramid Mountain Lumber.

One thing that Northern Rockies should not do, he said, is to raise fees at the Medical Center.

Reiner assured him that he was not aware of any proposal to increase fees, but that if fee increases were being considered, the issue would be brought before the board for trustee approval.

"The success of this clinic is it must be community driven and supported. If this group (the board) loses control, we're going to have problems," he said.

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