Hospital projects ‘moderate’ growth in 2017

Alan Wartes
Times Staff Writer

Gunnison Valley Health’s (GVH) proposed 2017 budget projects gross revenue totalling $68,615,611 — including revenue growth in the coming year of 3 percent.

Of that, the county-owned healthcare system intends to spend an estimated $3.3 million on new “capital outlays” spread over a variety of projects. That figure includes $750,000 set aside for new land acquisition in the Gunnison area for a possible future expansion of unspecified “outpatient services” that would serve residents of the entire valley.

GVH Chief Financial Officer Thomas Harvey — new to the job since August — declined to provide additional details about the land purchase, citing the sensitivity of ongoing negotiations.

“Our mindset here is to add or improve services for this community,” he said. “So in the budget we’ve projected moderate increases in volume and staffing needs to meet those volumes, and new capital (outlays) which can lead to new service lines or improved quality of service.”

According to Harvey, growth in “volume” at GVH is expected to come mostly from ongoing hospital initiatives to increase participation in existing services. One example is something called a “swing bed” — which refers to longterm in-patient care that provides sustained services during lengthy recuperation. A portion of the projected increase in swing bed business could come from receiving overflow patients from elsewhere, Harvey said.

“That kind of growth would outpace what you would see with ordinary population growth within the county,” said GVH Marketing Director Tyler Hansen.

Growth in the number of patients seen at GVH is also expected as members of the local population become more educated about available services here.

“I think some people have been leaving the community for services, not knowing that we offer those things here or that we are competitively priced,” said GVH Controller Jackie Leach. “We’re trying to decrease some of that outmigration by improving services.”

With that in mind the proposed budget makes funding available for several  equipment acquisitions, as well.

GVH will spend roughly $600,000 on a new patient monitoring system manufactured by a Chinese company called Mindray. The system will improve monitoring integration between departments within the hospital, Harvey said.

In addition, money will be set aside this year toward adding a 3-D Tomosynthesis mammography machine — in partnership with local chapter of Tough Enough to Wear Pink — at a total cost of $200-600,000, depending on which version is purchased and whether it is used or new.

“This is basically the cutting edge of mammography technology,” said Hansen. “3-D tomography really helps zero in on harder to identify breast cancers in women who have denser breast tissue than most. In our community, at both ends of the valley, we actually have a higher incidence of dense breast tissue than you’d find elsewhere.”

The 2017 budget also provides partial funding for a new position called an “oncology navigator.” Approximately a third of the cost will be met by Tough Enough to Wear Pink funding. The addition will provide cancer patients with personalized guidance through the various steps of treatment at the hospital.

The capital budget tackles the issue of affordable housing by setting aside $280,000 to double the number of temporary housing units owned by GVH, from two to four. The tight housing market in the valley has had a negative effect on staff recruitment in recent years, Harvey said.

“That fits with that ongoing narrative within the community of, man, affordable housing is a big issue,” said Hansen.

“We’re trying to attract talent to the hospital and it can be hard to do when they can’t find a suitable place to live.”

Other new spending includes additional staff in the Ambulance/EMS department. According to Harvey the move will reduce the need for expensive helicopter services by  freeing up local crews to provide ground transportation when appropriate.

Under the category of “special projects” not included in the 2017 budget is the proposed construction of a new Senior Care Center — at an estimated cost of $21.6 million. Of that, from $15-18 million would be in the form of “secured debt,” while the rest would come from “equity contributions” from GVH, the Senior Care Center and the  Gunnison Valley Health Foundation. If finally approved, work is projected to begin in 2017.

Prices for services across all departments at GVH are increasing slightly as well. In 2015, GVH engaged a thirdparty consultant — PARA Healthcare Financial Services — “to help identify where changes needed to occur with charges,” according to a budget overview.

As a result, last month all room rates were increased by 3 percent, while pharmacy charges rose by 5 percent. All other charges saw a 3 percent increase as well. Additional rate increases are scheduled for January 2017 — including another 5 percent for pharmacy services and 2 percent in other charges.

All rate increases are calculated to remain below the 5 percent annual cap that GVH must abide by according to “payer contracts.”

GVH’s Board of Trustees will meet this evening to vote on the budget, which will then be forwarded to County Commissioners for final approval this coming Tuesday as part of the county’s larger budget.

(Alan Wartes can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or

Published Gunnison Country Times
Dec. 8, 2016