Consultant pick nears



February 10, 2010 - 12:00 AM

Allen County commissioners will select a consulting firm at next Tuesday’s meeting to help them decide whether to remodel and expand Allen County Hospital or build a new hospital altogether.
A week ago three firms pitched their services. Tuesday morning, with several members of a recently formed advisory committee sitting in, commissioners had a second interview with Health Facilities Group of Wichita. HFG had the lowest bid of the three at $28,500.
Commissioner Dick Works said he wanted to hear more about financial information and guidance HFG would provide.
PiperJaffray, a Wichita financial firm, has a health care service group and could provide comprehensive advice in funding options and assistance in selling an issue, said Greg Vahrenberg.
“We have to be cautious in obligating our constituents for 30 years,” Works said.
Vahrenberg said a timeline to have a funding referendum on the Aug. 3 primary election ballot might be rushing the issue.
“You should have 60 to 90 days to inform voters about what you want to do and how you’re going to finance it,” he said.

SCOTT BUCKLEY, a Kansas City demographer whom HFG would employ, told commissioners a component of their decision-making would be how many Allen Countians now use ACH and how many could be expected to with updated facilities.
In 2006, 2,026 Allen Countians were admitted to hospitals. Of those, 920, or 45 percent, went to ACH according to the Kansas Hospital Association. In 2008, 801 of 2,018 were admitted to ACH, putting the ratio just under 40 percent.
If half of Allen Countians chose ACH, the total would increase by more than 200 a year to more than 1,000, Buckley noted.
Buckley said Neosho County Regional Medical Center captured nearly half of the obstetrics cases in Allen County  — “45 percent of 190 Allen County babies were born at Neosho County in 2008,” he said.
Neosho County has an obstetrician, Dr. Cathy Taylor, on staff, which draws clients, Mary Kay Heard, advisory committee member, observed. At Iola’s hospital, family physicians Tim Spears and Rebecca Lohman deliver babies.
David Toland, Thrive Allen County executive director and committee member, asked Buckley whether establishing a specific medical specialty at ACH would increase its drawing power.
Probably, HFG’s Steve Lewallen said, “but in what area? Rules are pretty tight with critical access hospitals and there aren’t many places to go to find a magic bullet.”
Studies of patient volume might show a need unfilled, Buckley said, and ACH could seize the opportunity.

COMMISSIONER GARY McIntosh said he was encouraged by comments he’s received since commissioners took an aggressive stance on improving local health care.
“I haven’t heard a single negative comment,” he said. “I’ve been getting positive responses everywhere I go.”
While Works said he remained eager to have funding decided in August, “I’d be perfectly willing to shift the vote to November if August isn’t feasible.”
The general election is Nov. 2.

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