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Trustees vote for new clinic

by Suzanne Vernon
For the Pathfinder
August 13, 1998

The Seeley Swan Medical Center board of trustees voted Monday night to build a new medical center on the hospital district's property where the existing facility is located in Seeley Lake.

The action is contingent upon receipt of $400,000 in low interest loans from Blackfoot Telephone Cooperative, Inc.. According to Dan Reiner, director of the Northern Rockies Medical Services (now Tamaracks, Inc., a subsidiary of St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula) which operates the Seeley Lake clinic, the trustees should receive notice about the funding within the next two weeks.

Missoula architect, John Wells, earlier this summer provided new construction estimates to the board in the amount of about $350,000 for a new, 3,000-square-foot facility. As a result of the vote on Monday, Wells will now begin to "right size" his proposed drawings to accommodate core services at the medical center.

If the hospital district receives funding, architectural drawings could be completed as early as October. Construction could begin in late fall, 1998, or early spring, 1999.

A year ago, trustees pursued a plan to remodel the existing facility, but cost estimates came in at about $275,000, prompting trustees to scrap the remodeling idea and think about building a new clinic instead.

Trustees began pricing land along Highway 83 in Seeley Lake suitable for the new clinic. However, in discussions held during July meetings, the trustees agreed that the medical center budget for construction of a new clinic would not cover both the purchase of land and the new construction.

Purchase of land in the community would have required sale of the existing medical center property. In recent months, trustees made it known that the property was for sale, but to date they have received no inquiries on the land, according to board chairman, Mary Ann Morin.

However, building on the existing site will not be cheap, either. In order to build a new facility on the existing property, the current Medical Center building will need to be relocated on the property, at a cost of about $40,000, Morin explained. That would bring the total cost of the new construction project to just under $400,000.

"We need to do some creative juggling of finances. Having only $10,000 cushion is not enough," she explained during the recent meeting.

The Medical Center has several options for paying for the relocation of the building, including asking Missoula County to forgive the hospital district's debt.

"We have good news," Morin said at Monday's meeting. "We've cut our debt to the county in half."

Unaudited year-end financial records from the county for fiscal year 1997-98 show that the hospital district owes $53,652 to Missoula County. That's half of the $106,000 that the district owed the county in 1996.

"We've acted in good faith. It's been a good effort on our part," Morin explained. "We'd like to see good faith from the county," she said.

Morin and other hospital district trustees plan to meet with Missoula County commissioners later this month to discuss their budget, along with health care issues in Seeley Lake, and research the types of county medical services such as WIC, SSTEP, well child care and mental health care that could be provided in Seeley Lake and Condon. According to Dan Reiner, many of these services have been cut back in the two communities in recent years, or are non-existent.

Reiner questioned Morin at length about the history of the debt to Missoula County. He volunteered to research the subject further, and to ask a private attorney to evaluate what the hospital district's options are in paying back any debt to the county.

In other discussion at the August meeting, Reiner said that St. Patrick Hospital will likely be asked to co-sign the $400,000 loan from Blackfoot Telephone. He indicated that the loan will be paid back by Northern Rockies Medical Services (Tamaracks, Inc.) through a new lease agreement with the Seeley Swan Hospital District.

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