Hospital CEO fields questions in Wauneta

Ballots mailed this week; return by May 14 deadline to be counted

    Chase County Community Hospital CEO Steve Lewis fielded a wide range of questions at an April 16 Wauneta meeting about the proposed hospital bond issue.
    The informational meeting was the second one about the project in recent weeks. A meeting was held in Imperial April 9 and a second was scheduled two days later in Wauneta, but was postponed due to a blizzard.
    The meetings are aimed at explaining why Chase County Commissioners have set a public vote on a $20.5 million bond issue to replace the existing hospital. Another $5.475 million will be paid for by the hospital itself through Medicare reimbursements.
    Lewis started off the Wauneta meeting by explaining what the project is and why it is necessary.
    The portion containing the hospital itself will be razed and the specialty clinic building will move into the area that now houses the rural health clinic, which will be moved into the new hospital.
    The existing hospital was built in 1977, with the two clinics added later, but “there’s some things that just aren’t functional with the existing building” now, Lewis said.
    Parts of the hospital don’t provide enough privacy, he said. For example, patients must be moved through public hallways for surgery.
    The building does not meet current health, safety, fire  and welfare codes, he said. In fact, patient rooms are so small that he’s surprised more of the nurses don’t have back injuries due to maneuvering patients in too-small spaces, he said. Patient bathrooms don’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
    Lewis said the lab and operating rooms are too small. And the infrastructure is worn out, with outdated plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems.
    It would be difficult and expensive to remodel the existing building because of its original design, he said.
    Lewis’ presentation also included information on property tax increases to pay off the bond issue, tax hikes that have drawn public fire from some county landowners.
    A homeowner with a house valuation of $106,155, the average in Chase County, will pay $89.89 more in property tax a year.
    The increase on rural land will be a bit more. On irrigated land, the tax hike will be $510 for 160 acres and $2,040 for 640 acres. For non-irrigated land, those increases will be $147 and $588, respectively, while for grassland they will be $77 and $311.
    The new hospital will have just seven inpatient beds because the majority of the care provided there is now outpatient, he said. And in response to one questioner, who asked why a large nursery was necessary, Lewis replied that it “is as small as it can get and meet codes and regulations.” The hospital averages about 15 births a year.
    That wasn’t the only part of the design questioned. One questioner complained about the number of waiting lounges, the presence of a chapel and the inclusion of a cafeteria, suggesting that a vending machine area could provide food.
    Lewis replied that there would be vending machines, that the lounges were for the convenience of patients and those who accompany them, while the chapel was requested by the hospital’s Auxiliary.
    Most of the questions Lewis took were in writing and anonymous, but some attendees addressed him directly.
    Among them was Duane Dinnel, a vocal opponent of the project.
    Dinnel said the hospital has been in the red by an average of $625,000 for seven years, an amount that would more than eat up the expected increase in Medicare reimbursements.
    “I personally would like to see this project put on hold” until the hospital is in the black, he said.
    In answer to that and other questions, Lewis said the hospital’s financial situation is improving — it is $31,000 in the black so far this year and expects to end the year with a positive fund balance.
    Another questioner asked how the hospital’s situation got so bad.
    Lewis replied, “I don’t have a good answer for that,” noting that it already was bad when he got here less than five years ago. Part of that, he said, was delayed, and thus more expensive, maintenance. For example, one year the hospital spent $10,000 just to clean out air ducts.
    One questioner asked whether the new hospital was designed for any needed changes in the future. Lewis said outer walls are designed to allow for physical expansion later, as are some specific areas, like the emergency room and x-ray area.
    The vote on the bond issue will be conducted by mail. The Chase County Clerk’s Office mailed ballots out Monday and they must be returned, either by mail or in person, to the Clerk’s office by 5 p.m. May 14.

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