Pioneers Medical Center CEO responds to questions

MEEKER I Following a slew of comments and questions from the public regarding various situations at Pioneers Medical Center, the HT reached out to CEO Liz Sellers, who celebrated her one-year anniversary in Meeker in April. Sellers’ responses to questions asked by the HT are presented here:

Introduction

Pioneers Hospital recognizes that the community is concerned with the current administration based on various rumors. The hospital’s goal in resolving this matter is to be fully transparent in our communications with the community, our employees and patients. The hospital is an important part of this community and we have every intention of keeping it that way for decades to come. 

However, the hospital is not a normal business. The hospital is an institution that is heavily regulated by the federal government. If these regulations are not followed, the hospital can be put into financial jeopardy, which would have a very negative affect on this community.  It is our goal to assure the hospital was following these regulations so that we can avoid penalties and fines, which would ultimately lead to higher costs in the community to keep the hospital running.  Many of the issues the hospital is now facing are a result of changes to the regulations, which are making the hospital’s historical practices change. No one likes change so it is understandable that the employees and patients are struggling with these new rules. Our team has done an amazing job of stepping up and showing that they are up to the challenge. In essence a vast majority of the long term, local staff have really shown how much they care and are able to adapt to the new rules and how much they are willing to push to ensure the continuation of this wonderful institution!

Q: Donna Wille is a self-pay patient who was scheduled by her doctor for two procedures following six weeks of illness. Just before her procedures she received a voicemail from a hospital employee stating that she would need to pay over $5,000 out of pocket in advance or the procedures would not be performed.

Is this hospital policy for non-elective procedures? Has this always been hospital policy or is this new? If new, when did this policy change and why?

After telling PMC she would not be using them, Wille received information that the same procedures at an outpatient facility in Grand Junction would be nearly 50% less and she would not be required to provide such a hefty sum in advance.  

As a hospital we cannot discuss any patient’s records with anyone to comply with HIPAA.  Even if this individual disclosed their circumstances to the public, the hospital is still bound by HIPAA unless that person signs a waiver allowing us to disclose their private information. As such, the hospital will not comment on any specific patient cases. We can say that the hospital tries to provide services at the least possible expense that we can afford to the local population. We are a small, rural facility so our expenses sometimes may not compete with a larger organization in a bigger town and it is possible that pricing in Grand Junction may be less expensive than what we charge. 

Q:  How many local staff members have resigned in the last 12 months from department head or management level positions?

How many have been replaced with temporary consultants and why?

How many have been replaced by Ms. Sellers’ former coworkers at other hospitals? We are aware of at least three. Are these individuals moving here to become part of the community, or are they transient and will follow Ms. Sellers to her next position? 

How many positions are being covered by interim staff?

Many organizations have a standard practice of hiring from within whenever possible. That does not seem to be the case with the current administration. Can you explain the reasoning for that? 

Are hospital employees now employed by Aramark, or by PMC? Aramark has some questionable reviews. How were they chosen and for what departments? 

We have had a few employees resign from the hospital.  Similar to HIPAA, the personnel records of specific employees is privileged information so the hospital cannot discuss specific resignations. However, resignations of management level employees is not an uncommon event in any business. A few of the managers have resigned recently due to retirement, other opportunities that have allowed personal growth, or new regulations enforced. 

The CEO is not creating the rules, she is just requesting that people follow them. Failure to follow these regulations can result in very large penalties to the organization. The hospital wants to make sure that it has appropriate staff to handle these rules. As a result, consultants and individuals have come in, who have the ability to make sure that the organization as a whole is compliant. The goal is to transition this knowledge to local employees so that the hospital will continue to be compliant with all applicable regulations on into the future.

The hospital contracted with Aramark as they came highly recommended for certain services.  However, very shortly after the hospital started using their services, it was determined that this was not the direction the hospital wanted to pursue further so the contract with Aramark was terminated. 

Q: We’ve heard reports that the hospital plans to put in a retail pharmacy. This would be in direct competition with our local pharmacy and create a public (taxpayer-funded)/private competition problem. Can you verify or clarify the hospital’s plans? 

 The hospital has been in discussions around putting in a retail pharmacy for a couple of years.  The goal behind the retail pharmacy is not to compete with Meeker Drugs. Rather, the hospital hopes to supplement the services that the local pharmacy is providing by offering prescriptions that they cannot offer. Currently, our residents in the Walbridge Wing have their prescriptions filled outside of the community. Bringing this service back to Meeker is a win for everyone.

Q:  We are not receiving press releases from PMC, and learned about the sleep study center from an article sent to the GJ Sentinel. When will Meeker residents learn about the sleep center, as the Sentinel is no longer being distributed locally? 

It appears that a Sleep Center has been installed in every hospital Ms. Sellers has worked at previously. Can you share why having a Sleep Study Center is so important to a small community hospital both from a healthcare standpoint and a financial standpoint? 

As we plan for the future, you may see new projects/programs brought to PMC. These are considered from a strategic position to provide our community care here at home. They further assist with the sustainability of PMC as we will be challenged with the decrease of mill levy funding in the near future. Our hope is that by adding services, we will maintain financial stability without the need for taxpayer funding. Many rural facilities that have lost support from mill levy funding are challenged to remain viable. A good example of a much needed service in Meeker and surrounding areas is our new American Academy of Sleep Medicine Accredited Center. Many facilities depend on a mobile sleep lab, much like PMC used in the past. These services do not provide continued support for those in need of sleep equipment to assure they are receiving quality sleep. Currently, the Sleep Center is scheduled out to June and have received referrals from as far as Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction.  This is a great addition to PMC, and we are excited to be helping our community with these services.

PMC has hired a behavioral specialist as well to support the great need for those  needing support with depression, identity issues and behavioral concerns. This is another example of a program that was created this year out of a need in the community and resulting in filling an unmet need. 

Q: We received an email that stated the hospital’s IT department has been decimated. Have those positions been filled? What is the status of the hospital’s IT department currently?

The hospital cannot and will not talk about the private records of former IT staff or why the IT department has experienced changes recently as that would be disclosing private information from employees in that department. Currently, the hospital has hired a consulting firm to manage the IT department.  The hospital has further hired a new IT director. The hiring process was a selection from 20 applicants. The selection panel was composed of senior department managers of PMC, as this group would have a close working relationship with their peer. In this ranking the team selected a candidate with specific criteria and expertise to move the program forward.  

Q: As the hospital is partially funded by taxpayer funds, the HT will be submitting a Colorado Open Records Act request for financial statements for the hospital for the last two years at the direction of PMC administration.

What is the plan for replacing the two board members who have recently resigned? 

The board positions will be filled through the process outlined in the law.  That means that the current board members will vote to temporarily fill the vacancies.  These individuals will temporarily fill the vacancies until the next election.  At that time, the new board members will have to be elected. 

Q: In his letter to the editor two weeks ago, former board member Brian Bofinger said he was concerned about confidentiality issues related to the board. How are those concerns being addressed? 

The law requires certain information learned by the board to be confidential.  However, when an employee brings forth a complaint about the administration of the hospital, the hospital needs information to fully investigate that complaint.  The board is not the body that is traditionally responsible for investigations of employee complaints.  Certainly, should the complaint be very serious and involve the CEO or CFO, the board has the right to do a full investigation.  But even under these circumstances the CEO or CFO has a right to be interviewed and informed of the complaint against them.  The board member in question believed that when he was receiving complaints, that the accused person had no right to know of the exact facts around such complaint. He wanted the board to make decisions on employee matters without both sides of the story. Other members of the board could not support that position. The disclosure of the facts to the accused person, is not disclosing confidential information as indicated by the law. The board members in question had followed the law appropriately and have continued to fully investigate allegations that are brought to their attention. 

NOTE: This article has been amended to reflect that the hospital employee who contacted Wille was not Danette Coulter in the billing department. According to Coulter, another employee — unnamed — in a different department made the call.


CORRECTION | In last week’s coverage of the Pioneers Medical Center board meeting, comments made to Donna Wille in response to her questions about billing and hospital policy were attributed to CEO Liz Sellers. In fact, it was PMC Board President Kim Brown who thanked Wille for coming and sharing her concerns. It was also Brown who asked the minutes from March be tabled for approval as some items needed to be remedied. The HT regrets the misattribution.  


By NIKI TURNER | editor@ht1885.com