Our view: Here’s to our health | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: Here’s to our health

For more than 60 years — beginning in 1950, with the completion and dedication of Routt County Memorial Hospital, the forerunner of Yampa Valley Medical Center —the Yampa Valley has enjoyed a level of medical care unprecedented in a community as small as ours, and to this point, we've achieved and maintained that level of care almost entirely on our own.

But the health care landscape is changing. More and more often, smaller organizations are being absorbed by larger ones, usually resulting in greater funding and expanded resources but, at the same time, more centralized control. For this reason, such changes are often regarded with trepidation, and, with the uncertainty that has recently arisen in terms of the future of health insurance in American, this sense of trepidation is more than justified.

We are currently undergoing such a change.

On June 8, following some three months of discussions and negotiations, YVMC announced it had signed an agreement finalizing a deal to merge YVMC into UCHealth, a nationally recognized, Front-Range hospital system. By terms of the agreement, YVMC will become one of eight hospitals in the UCHealth network. The agreement includes more than $105 million in investments into the YVMC community, which hospital officials say will bolster expansion of YVMC's emergency department and behavioral health and substance abuse work, and further stipulates that YVMC's board of trustees will "continue to provide local governance to the hospital."

We see potential advantages to be realized through this merger.

First, and most obviously, joining a larger health care system will allow YVMC nearly instantaneous access to myriad healthcare professionals and medical specialists. In the same way, the merger will facilitate easier, more efficient communication with Front-Range hospitals when patients must be transferred to larger facilities.

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Second, given the current political climate in Washington, D.C., there is a high degree of uncertainty about the future of the health care landscape. Association with a larger organization will open the door to expanded resources and expertise, positioning YVMC to more readily navigate the morass of instability that has become our national health care system.

Finally, according to UCHealth's website, the organization boasts a lengthy list of insurance providers and in-network medical professionals — resources that will now be at our disposal, locally — so it's likely the merger could work to drive down overall costs.

But, at the same time, the merger is a huge change, and as we noted before, change is invariably accompanied by uncertainty, particularly when we're talking about something as vital as YVMC, which is not only the county's top employer in terms of full-time jobs and its second largest employer with respect to total jobs, but also our local hub for medical care.

In short, the hospital's health is key to the community's health, and with such a big change on the horizon, there are questions that still need to be answered.

  • Specifically, how will UCHealth's $105 million investment be used? Which programs and services will benefit?
  • Will there be changes to the services the hospital provides? Will there be new services? Will some services be taken away and merged with others?
  • Under the agreement, YVMC's board of trustees will continue to provide "local governance." What, exactly, does this mean? Will the board's influence be enhanced or diminished? Will it fill an advisory role, or will it continue to be actively involved in policy-making?
  • What affect will this have on hospital employees? Are jobs likely to be gained or lost?
  • How happy are our physicians and other health care professionals with this arrangement? Will they want to stay or are we likely to lose skilled physicians to other communities? Will doctors have to become hospital employees in order to work there?

The bottom line is this: Even with all the potential benefits the merger promises, the community needs to know more about how such a sweeping change will impact the core medical services it fought to establish and worked for more than six decades to maintain and enhance.

YVMC is a private nonprofit and, like any other private business, has no legal obligation to tell us a lot. But considering the intimacy and importance of the issue, perhaps it has a moral obligation.

At issue: Yampa Valley Medical Center has signed an agreement finalizing a deal to merge YVMC with UCHealth, a nationally recognized, Front-Range hospital system.

Our view: This merger has the potential to vastly improve our local healthcare landscape, but there are questions to be answered and concerns to be addressed.

Editorial Board

• Suzanne Schlicht, publisher

• Lisa Schlichtman, editor

• Jim Patterson, evening editor

• Tom Ross, reporter

• Bob Weiss, community representative

• Beth Melton, community representative