Community expresses concern after local hospital cuts services

Dozens of residents attended a South Lincoln County Hospital District meeting last week after it was announced that the local hospital will halt baby deliveries and other services. (COURTESY PHOTO/South Lincoln Hospital District)

On Monday, March 28, the South Lincoln Hospital District board of directors held their scheduled meeting and provided an opportunity for public comments regarding their recent decision to cancel OB (obstetric and delivery) services.

Those present were doctors, nurses and staff at the hospital, and residents of Kemmerer. Board president Michelle Pollard presided over the meeting, and asked those present to sign up if they wished to speak. Pollard thanked those present for coming, and said that each person who had signed up would be allowed three minutes. A timekeeper would advise them when their time was up. 

Questions asked by many speakers were: “Why is staff leaving?” and “Why is the hospital not hiring?” One woman stated she knew many people who had applied and were not even getting a call back.   

A major concern was the shortage of staff, so nurses were being asked to be on-call for 50% of their allotted hours, causing stress due to lack of time spent with their families.  This work load was cited as a reason for nurses leaving the hospital for employment elsewhere.

Over and over again, speakers said that money was not the reason people were leaving; they stated it was poor management. The complaint was that nurses and front-line staff were treated poorly by management; they were not listened to, were criticized and called cynics if they had any complaints.

More than one speaker said the board should listen to front-line staff, and interview those who have left to get the real reason behind the lack of nurses. 

A speaker, who stated she is a cardiology specialist, said many skilled professionals are being overlooked; she thought resumes were not being sent to the appropriate departments by management.

She suggested that Human Resources needed to be more inclusive and involve the front-line staff in hiring and retention solutions. She volunteered to brainstorm solutions with the board if they were willing to work with her.

Winter weather and bad road conditions were cited as a danger for women in labor to have to travel elsewhere for delivery services. The time involved in traveling somewhere else for delivery would be a dangerous factor. Many of the speakers — nurses and doctors alike — became emotional when citing reasons for keeping OB services available. 

Everyone asked the board to involve the entire community, and said it should have been done before they made the decision to cut services. The fact of the Natrium nuclear power plant coming to Kemmerer and the influx of people who expect the community to have a hospital that offers all medical services was mentioned several times. 

Suggestions were made for the board to “think outside the box” and look at a variety of ways to hire and retain employees. Hiring more part-time nurses was one suggestion given. Another suggestion was that the board look to major companies and organizations for grants for their financial difficulties.

Older residents there all agreed that it’s essential that the community has a hospital that delivers babies, and that eliminating services at this time was sending the wrong message to those looking to move to the area, including those that TerraPower, the nuclear power plant company building just outside Kemmerer, will bring.

“If you don’t have compassion/empathy after hearing their stories, you shouldn’t be sitting in those seats as board members,” Dr.  Regg Hagge said, adding that community involvement is important during this process.

Pollard thanked all of those present and said, “We make the best decisions we can. We appreciate you.”

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