Daniel H. Smilkstein: Medical center provides essential service to South Routt
October 26, 2016
Most people in Routt County know that there is a small medical clinic located in Oak Creek at the south end of town on Colorado Highway 131. Steamboat Today recently reported on South Routt Medical Center's budget shortfall and the proposed 5A ballot initiative, which asks the South Routt voters to approve a 2 mill levy tax increase on assessed property value with the goal of securing SRMC's future.
When voters approved the formation of the SRMC Health Services District and a 2.095 mill levy on May 2, 2006, wasn't that supposed prevent the crisis we are now facing? The answer is "of course” but to understand why we are facing a new financial challenge we have to go back in history.
Here's some things that most of you don't know. SRMC is the oldest continuously functioning medical clinic in Routt County. Its history is grounded in public support, and through all the economic ups and downs over the past several decades, it has stayed true to its mission of providing medical care to the citizens of South Routt.
The clinic's creation in itself is a testament to the tenacity and industry of the community.
On March 22, 1964, just one year after the initial public meeting sponsored by the Silver Spruce Woman's Club and led by President Jolene Koler, SRMC opened its $37,000 state-of-the-art medical facility, debt free. The board that planned, designed, fund raised and built the facility reads like a who's who of South Routt royalty — Coyner, Callas, Stetson, Koler, Myers, Hamidy and many more.
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If this were a fairy tale then we could end it there, but the past 52 years has had its share of roller coaster economics and running a medical practice has become more complex and expensive.
The SRMC board responded to a financial crisis in 2006 by creating the SRMC Health Services District and passing a 2.095 mill levy. Real estate and coal were king in 2006, and this move put the clinic on solid ground for several years.
In 2012, the clinic remodeled and expanded in response to the demands of growth and modernization. The end result was a beautiful modern clinic, but the timing was terrible.
With the great recession of 2007, property values and assessments plummeted. In just a few years, assessed real estate value dropped 45 percent. A mill levy of 2.095 essentially became a mill levy of 1.
Peabody's bankruptcy threatened an additional 43 percent drop in tax revenue. That crisis appears to have been temporarily averted, but what about the future?
SRMC is a unique clinic in our region. Oak Creek is located far enough from Steamboat to be a challenging trip for many in South Routt residents, but 3 miles too close to qualifying as a Rural Health Center and receiving the economic benefits of that designation.
We accept and see all patients regardless of economic status or insurance. We even see patients from Steamboat Springs. With a growing number of medical practices denying care to Medicare and Medicaid, maintaining our "services-to-all" philosophy is even more important than ever.
The additional revenue generated by the increased mill levy will essentially bring us back to parity and help cover operating and capital expenses. On the health side, we will be able to continue providing our uniquely personable brand of medicine five days per week to all our patients.
If you have been to SRMC, you know what I am talking about, and if you have not been to SRMC, drop by to see what small town home grown medical care is all about.
Daniel H. Smilkstein
South Routt Medical Center medical director