PINEDALE – Years in the making, the Sublette County Special Hospital District became a reality when the five elected board members convened for the first meeting on Jan. 13.
Dave Doorn, administrative director for the Sublette County Rural Health Care District (SCRHCD), opened the meeting and the floor to nominate officers. The board elected Tonia Hoffman chair, Jamison Ziegler vice chair and Kenda Tanner secretary and treasurer.
Recognizing the meeting’s historic significance, each member gave an opening statement.
Tanner thanked board members and public for supporting the hospital district and said that she was “excited” to serve and was ready for the challenge.
“I can’t tell you what this means to me, for the future of the Sublette Center – that’s where my heart is and has been – as well as all health care in Sublette County,” Tanner added.
“I, too, am really excited to be here,” said Hoffman. “It’s been quite a journey and quite a learning experience. I’m scared for all of this moving forward, to be honest, but I’m so excited at the same time. We have a tremendous journey ahead of us.”
Dr. Brendan Fitzsimmons stated that Jan. 13 was “quite a historical day” – the culmination of a “rocky road” 100 years in the making.
Board members had a “fiduciary responsibility,” Fitzsimmons said, a “special and unique trust that has been placed on us” to serve Sublette County and “ensure access to health care of the highest quality to our friends and neighbors for many years to come.”
The hospital board was in a “unique position” and lacked buildings, assets and employees at the first meeting, Fitzsimmons added.
“But we also have no damaged baggage and skeletons,” he said.
Fitzsimmons described the board as “five ordinary people” facing a “daunting task.”
“We have a steep learning curve ahead of us, but with honest effort and the support of our community, with the right direction, we can build the finest little hospital in the west,” Fitzsimmons stated.
Wendy Boman thanked voters for approving the district and making “forward movement” in health care.
“It’s been such a long process and we’re finally at a point where we can see some light at the end of the tunnel,” she added.
Boman advised the board to proceed cautiously and encouraged the public to be patient.
“Trust me, it’s going to happen, but we have to be careful and we want to do it right the first time,” Boman stated.
Ziegler said that he was “excited” about the hospital board’s formation, a historic moment without precedent in Wyoming. He stressed the need to “build relationships of trust” with a public that voted to “increase the tax mil” to create a hospital district.
“As we move forward, we’re going to be focused on making sure that the right level of care happens,” he added.
Maintaining community involvement in the decision making process was “crucial” to build a health-care system “we can be proud of,” Ziegler said.
The first item on the agenda was to set meeting dates. The board unanimously passed a motion to schedule regular meetings every third Wednesday, immediately following the SCRHCD meeting.
Hoffman emphasized hosting meetings across the county and switching locations from month to month. Board members agreed, but did not make a formal motion.
Ziegler stated a need to hold “work sessions” in addition to regular meetings to tackle the board’s heavy workload. The members passed a motion to schedule a special meeting on Jan. 27 at 5 p.m. in Pinedale (specific location to be announced).
Obtaining legal counsel to guide the new board was “imperative” before the board moved forward, Hoffman said. Board members agreed to move fast and advertise for the position.
Hoffman set a goal to approve legal counsel by the Jan. 27 special meeting.
The board tabled establishing bylaws, policies and procedures until legal counsel was in place.
The board lacked cash and assets, and discussed setting up a bank account with a possible line of credit. Fitzsimmons suggested forming a finance committee to negotiate with different banks.
USDA loan application
Doorn reported that the paperwork needed to complete an application to fund construction of a critical access hospital through the U.S. Department of Agriculture was basically ready to submit.
The financial feasibility report by Eide Bailly was done, Doorn added, along with an appraisal on the SCRHCD’s property and a preliminary architectural report by Davis Partnership Architects.
The SCRHCD was still working with Peak Engineering on an environmental study of the Pinedale Clinic site, he said.
Doorn stated that the next step was board approval of the application. He intended to send the lengthy application packet to each board member to give them the opportunity to study the documents before they give the final green light.
The board passed a resolution to move forward with the USDA loan application at the Jan. 13 meeting.
Forming committees to divide out the board’s workload took precedence. Hoffman suggested a committee tasked with completing the merger and memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the SCRHCD and Sublette Center.
Fitzsimmons encouraged a committee to do public outreach and work to bring the Sublette Center and SCRHCD’s cultures “together.”
Dawn Walker, the Sublette Center administrator, stressed the need for a building committee to include input from employees at the center and the clinics as architectural plans move forward.
Commissioner Tom Noble stated that due to the Sublette County Board of Commissioners’ multi-million dollar pledge to construct the assisted living facility, a commissioner needed to be involved in the building committee.
The board approved three initial committees on Jan. 13. The list included a merger/MOU committee with Tanner and Hoffman as members, a building committee with Ziegler and Boman and a finance committee with Tanner and Fitzsimmons.