MARBLETON – COVID-19 intensified a nationwide shortage in health-care workers, and Sublette County is no exception.
The scarcity in qualified employees is particularly acute in nursing. The Sublette County Hospital District is operating with only four nurses to cover two clinics and be on call 24/7 for emergencies, Dave Doorn, administrative director, told the board of trustees on Oct. 20.
The additional workload in the midst of a pandemic is taking a toll on the nurses and other staff, Doorn said. A retention bonus was “critical at this time” to keep existing staff in Sublette County, he added.
Doorn proposed a two-part bonus, with $1,500 per employee paid immediately followed by $1,000 in six months. The total cost for both payments, before taxes, came to $158,000.
Board chairwoman Tonia Hoffman stated the hospital district was in a tight spot financially, but the clinics could not afford to lose additional staff.
Hoffman told the Roundup the bonus was one step the district could take to demonstrate to “all employees how appreciated they are” during the pandemic.
“We definitely want them to be recognized and have an incentive to stay here,” she added.
Kari DeWitt, public relations director, said the district could pursue a grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration to reimburse part or all of the retention bonus cost.
Trustees unanimously passed a motion to approve the retention bonuses as presented by Doorn.
Bill Kluck, EMS director, encouraged the board to include a personal letter to accompany the bonuses recognizing the sacrifices and hardships district employees experienced. The board agreed that Kluck’s suggestion was an “excellent idea.”
The trustees and district staff discussed additional measures to alleviate the staff shortage. Doorn told trustees the district hired a new medical assistant last week and interviewed two nurses.
The district worked with a company called Locums to take on two temporary physician assistants from Cheyenne, Doorn added.
Trustee Jamison Ziegler asked what measures the district was taking to recruit nurses. District managers had boosted nationwide ads to hit specific markets in Wyoming and across the nation, Doorn responded.
In the meantime, the district implemented a plan to use paramedics as substitutes for nurses on an on-call basis, Doorn said.
Paramedics in Sublette County already worked well with nurses and providers in the ER, Doorn added, and is within regulations.
The district executed the plan last week, with the first shift of on-call paramedics on Wednesday night, Doorn said.
“We think this can be a great way to give our nurses a break,” Doorn told the Roundup.
USDA, merger and Public Health building updates
Doorn reported the district is “waiting patiently” for its loan application through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to go before the national loan committee. The district is completing final details required at the state level and continues to “wait for direction or information” from the USDA, Doorn added.
Attorneys for the Sublette Center and hospital district are working to finalize the merger agreement, Hoffman told trustees. The process was moving forward, but was also pending USDA approval.
Trustees unanimously passed a motion to approve a delegation agreement with Sublette County to transfer Public Health to a new site on South Tyler Street, pending discussions with Public Health.
Hoffman confirmed to the Roundup that relocating Public Health would not take place until the hospital district received approval on their loan application from the USDA.
Hoffman added that she and the district’s attorney, Abbi Forwood, planned to reach out to Public Health over the following week to discuss the agreement with the county and make sure Public Health is included in the process before the hospital district formally signs the agreement.
Employee health insurance update
The hospital district’s new insurance committee, representing both the district and the Sublette Center, received requests for quotes, or RFQs, from four insurance companies offering coverage to employees.
The committee recommended accepting a bid from Tegeler and Associates.
Trustee Dave Bell suggested the board consider all four companies to find a product that also fulfilled the district’s fiduciary responsibilities to the taxpayers.
Ziegler stated Sublette County School District No. 1 opened employee insurance up to bid. The school district ended up retaining the local option, but the process was healthy and “freshened” the relationship with their provider, he added.
Trustees Wendy Boman and Kenda Tanner agreed opening the process was worthwhile to save money.
The board unanimously recommended the insurance committee seek requests for proposals from all four companies and include the Sublette Center in the process.
Additional hospital district news
The trustees did not take making the decision to move additional funds from reserves lightly, Hoffman stated. She added the district still had plenty of reserves left, worth approximately $6 million.