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Hebron community discusses clinic closure

HEBRON -- Several members of the community came out to the Brick City Senior Center in downtown Hebron to discuss the future of their local clinic Wednesday.

Board members from the Jacobson Memorial Hospital in Elgin informed the Hebron hospital board on April 2 it will be closing its satellite clinic in Hebron on June 30.

"The bottom line is that there isn't enough money to sustain these operations," Jim Opdahl, administrator of the Elgin hospital said. "That organization down there (Elgin) isn't able to sustain operations with those types of losses."

According to figures quoted by Opdahl, the Elgin hospital lost $63,000 in its last fiscal year from its operation of the Hebron clinic.

This, accompanied by the fact that Elgin's hospital has only made a profit in one of the last 10 years, is evidence of how serious the problem really is in rural healthcare.

"I'm sorry I'm not the bearer of better news. It's just the reality of rural healthcare," Opdahl said. "There are some really serious issues facing rural healthcare. A lot of organizations are just looking at how they can survive...I think you would be really hard-pressed to find a rural healthcare provider that is making money with their operation."

Being able to cover basic operating costs was the problem Opdahl pointed out as the most serious. Most rural healthcare providers simply do not see the number of patients necessary to pay the bills he said.

Opdahl, who is also the administrator of the Richardton hospital, added that the Hebron clinic is not the only one in danger. He said both the Richardton and Elgin clinics are currently scrapping by, but are in better situations then the Hebron clinic.

The Elgin hospital board's decision was final according to Opdahl, but he offered several solutions to the problem.

"There's potential for these services to be maintained, but people have to support it," Opdahl said. "The business of healthcare is we make money when people are sick...that's the nature of the business."

Opdahl's first step to maintaining services in the community was there had to be a commitment from members of the community to utilize it.

In order for that to happen, Opdahl said there needed to be an expansion of existing services the clinic could provide, but currently doesn't. He pointed to the X-ray machine the clinic has, but doesn't use as something that could be used to increase traffic.

To sustain the increased traffic the people would need to trust those individuals providing the care. Continuity in healthcare professionals is important according to Opdahl and the lower retention rate in rural areas complicates an already difficult situation.

"One of the biggest issues facing rural areas is staffing," Opdahl said.

Lastly, Opdahl pointed to the possibility of independent funding from private sources or public funding through a sales tax as a way to keep the clinic open.

Richardton raises money through a sales tax to help support its own hospital and Opdahl said Hebron could possibly do the same.

Following his comments, Opdahl and the Hebron hospital board opened the floor for questions and suggestions.

One citizen asked of the possible administration of the clinic by another outside entity such as how it currently stands with the Elgin hospital.

Opdahl stated the Richardton hospital was in no condition to support the loss the Hebron clinic had seen in recent years. Representatives from Coal Country Community Health Services, who were in the audience said they might be interested, but an analysis would have to be made.

"There are solutions out that," Opdahl said. "It's not impossible."