I had the opportunity to spend time with Aaron Rogers, CEO of our (MCHD) Mountain Communities Healthcare District (owners/operators of Trinity Hospital) this week. It was an enlightening experience that resulted in me becoming an even bigger fan of our health care system.
As a volunteer firefighter, I have firsthand knowledge of just how important it is to have a full-service health care system right here in Trinity County. With 25 hospital beds and 24/7 Hospitalist coverage, up to 13 skilled nursing beds, a 24-hour Emergency Room, full lab and X-ray facilities, health clinics in Weaverville and Hayfork, physical therapy services in Weaverville and Hayfork, respiratory therapy services, dietary services, amazing nursing staff, and (currently) 185 dedicated employees… we are truly blessed.
I heard many examples of staff experience, talent, and dedication that speak not only to the quality of people taking care of us… but to their character and commitment to the communities they serve. One that stood out was framed by wildfires. As the danger from recent wildfires grew and the threat of evacuating the hospital was in the discussion, Dr. Sommers (an ER doctor) told Aaron Rogers that he would stay in the Emergency Room until he was told he had to leave… even if that meant he stayed at the hospital for days. He wanted to make sure that emergency room services were available in this time of great need. From what I gathered in our discussions; Dr. Sommers is just one of the many unsung heroes serving our community.
Another compelling example of the dedication of MCHD staff is the herculean effort put forward during the COVID19 pandemic. You likely recall the stories of medical staff in hospitals around the country who were exhausted, frustrated, and concerned about the seemingly endless pressure placed on the health care system by this pandemic. While our MCHD staff may not have been in the news, they were under the same kind of stress… and they never faltered.
What might go unnoticed when we think about our health care system is that the payroll to the hospital’s 185 employees delivers approximately $10 million per year into our economy. At a time when our Placemaking Initiative is focusing on ways we can enhance housing, workforce development, and economic development, we need to recognize and support organizations like these who are already a huge part of our economy.
On another financial note, many in the county will remember that a special tax was in place for 15 years to help the hospital stay in business. There was a point at which the hospital had only enough money to cover one day of operation and employees were accepting pay cuts so that the hospital could continue to offer all the needed services to the community during these tough financial times.
Today, two years after choosing not to put the special hospital tax back on the ballot, we have a thriving health care system with cash in the bank to fund a full 365 days of operating expenses. Another sign of the financial health of the organization is that it has no debt. All new facilities and equipment are paid for at the time of purchase.
While great stewardship has clearly made a huge difference, the long-term viability of our health care system is dependent upon our communities and patients who make use of the available services. In other words, we need to take care of the system that is taking care of us.
There are parts of the system that do cost more to operate than the money received for the services provided. This is not due to inefficiencies, but to the way some services are covered (or not) by insurance providers, Medicare, and Medicaid. Fortunately, effective operations of the combined facilities and services mean that we still have access to these under-funded, yet highly important services.
A recent article in the Trinity Journal touched on the possibility of the Mountain Communities Healthcare District (owners/operators of the hospital) providing services and support to the Trinity County Life Support Community Service District (our ambulance service). It’s amazing to see an organization that was once struggling to survive now offering to give back in such an important way. This type of mutual respect and collaboration is just what’s needed in our communities.
Discussions and planning are already underway for new health care facilities. This project is huge in scope and could take as long (or longer) than 8 years and cost an estimated $100 million. Part of the reason for the long timeframe and high costs is regulations and the requirement for State signoff at a very detailed level. For example, when the hospital replaced 70-year-old boilers it took 3 years to get state sign-off.
While new facilities (to replace those built as far back as 1957) will be a welcome addition for patients and staff, it’s great to know that the quality of services delivered is already at such a high standard.
My sincere thanks go out to the many unsung heroes who keep us safe and healthy here in Trinity County.