Friday, March 23, 2018

Big Horn County Memorial Hospital board member Thor Torske shows members of the Hardin public plans for the hospital’s expansion.

Hardin City Council supports hospital expansion plan

An expansion plan for Big Horn County Memorial Hospital was supported unanimously Tuesday evening by the Hardin City Council, and is up for public vote come Election Day on Nov. 7.
Hospital personnel plan to construct an ambulance bay and swing bed unit on the building’s easement at Miles Avenue. They also want to build a physical therapy and community wellness center over the ice skating rink in South Park.
The expansion will be paid for by the hospital and requires no extra expense on the city taxpayers’ part.
Public opposition to the plan on Tuesday started out strong in the council meeting’s public comment portion, but residents appeared more open to the idea as hospital representatives explained their strategy and showed them design documents.
While the residents’ concerns might not have been fully overcome, they were at least pacified for much of the meeting.
City worker Steve Hopes, for example, objected to what he saw as the hospital’s attempt to slowly take over South Park. The council had told the hospital to stop asking for space in the past, he continued, adding “they’re going to come back again and they’re going to take more again.”
About 10 minutes later, once he learned Hardin taxpayers would be voting on whether the facility could expand, he said, “I’m all in favor for it, as long as the public says, ‘Yeah, go for it.’”
At the previous meeting on July 18, council aldermen and hospital board members agreed the skating rink was under-utilized by local youth. According to Big Horn Hospital Association board member Jim Seykora, the area also has a maintenance issue, where water from the rink drains into – and damages – a nearby parking lot.
“In essence, we’re asking the city to donate that to us, so we can construct a facility that generates taxes, and furthers the health and wellness of this community,” Seykora said. “We cannot start construction…without the council members in agreement with us.”
The hospital, according to Association board member Thor Torske on July 18, has been “stretched to capacity.”
Over the “last couple of years,” hospital CEO Christi Gatrel added, the number of emergency room visits have tripled to 4,200, and staff have needed to find new locations in the building. Their radiology department has also expanded to take care of outpatients and more people are arriving for physical therapy due to Medicaid expansion, so that “it’s difficult to take on new patients.”
“It’s purely an economic decision as to why we want to provide services to our community,” Torske said. “We are providing the top-notch, most sophisticated services that a community of this nature can have, but we just need to have a little bit more room.”
The wellness center will include a workout facility that separates those undergoing cardiac rehab from other members of the public, along with a 110-foot track. Those using the facility will have the ability to look out on the park.
Using the facility, if it opens, will require a fee to balance out maintenance of the area’s more than $320,000 in equipment.
Among the aldermen in approval was Harry Kautzman, who had opposed the facility in August 2016 because he – like Hopes – didn’t want the hospital “to…end up with the whole park.” On July 18, he said, he approved of the construction, “as long as we are able to maintain our infrastructure.”