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Marias Medical Center (MMC) has been a county-owned and operated entity its entire existence and, as many have already speculated and heard, that may change.

MMC Chief Executive Officer William Kiefer explained in the recent MMC newsletter, “As a county-owned facility we are not eligible for a portion of Medicaid monies that are meant to support Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) like MMC. As many of you know, the hospital has operated at a loss for many years.”

He continued, “I have had discussions with the county commissioners about this and the county would really like to not be responsible for running a hospital anymore and would like to find a strategic partner, who specializes in the hospital industry, that can help the facility to stabilize financially and reach new heights in volumes, customer service, employee satisfaction and patient outcomes.”

MMC Chief Financial Officer Shane Clark explained during a recent meeting that government-owned hospitals don’t receive as much funding and if MMC was to be bought by an outside entity it would be eligible for an additional $600,000 annually, based upon an estimate for last year. 

Being eligible for more funding isn’t the only reason the Toole County Commissioners approached the administrative staff at MMC with the proposal of finding a strategic partner. Saving taxpayers money while maintaining the facility as a critical access hospital were other reasons.

“This was a commissioner decision,” said Commissioner Mary Ann Harwood. “We went to William (Kiefer) with this. Hospital finances have put a burden on the county. We have to make sure there’s money to keep it going so other things suffer. By doing this we can free up some money for other uses in the county.”

MMC Compliance Risk Officer Tressa Keller explained a bit more in depth the importance of doing something about MMC’s financial state, before it’s too late.

Keller stated, 98 rural access hospitals have closed since 2010. “Most operate at a loss, including MMC. The county and taxpayers make up the difference. There are many changes coming in how hospitals are reimbursed and that threatens all rural hospitals. We do not want to be one that closes,” she pointed out.

Continuing to provide excellent, quality care to patients and employment opportunities for many in the community are priorities for all involved in making this decision. A transition team consisting of Kiefer, Clark and Keller, along with the County Commissioners, County Attorney Merle Raph and MMC attorney Stewart Kirkpatrick, have drafted a Request for Proposal (RFP). The proposal sets out certain criteria the team felt important and what credentials a strategic partner would have to meet.

 “We’ve gone through the process and drafted a request for proposal,” confirmed Kiefer. “We tried to be very thoughtful about things important to the county, community and employees. We are looking to find a partner that has the same values. We set certain criteria and have listed what we feel is important and what credentials they’d have to meet.”

Kiefer explained they want a partner that will help the facility to build upon the great services it already provides and that all entity proposals will be considered by the team.

“All entity proposals will be considered by the team,” Kiefer added. “It will not just go to the highest bidder. Finances matter, but so does commitment to the community and the quality of care. We really want to make sure we are here for the long run. We want to be thoughtful, deliberate and careful to get the best strategic partner, but also have to honor government process.”

“We are not rushing through this process,” said County Commissioner, Joe Pehan.

“This is why we have Merle (Raph) directing us,” added Commissioner Don Hartwell.

The RFP was scheduled to be approved by the Commissioners at their Oct. 7 meeting.

Kiefer has been through this process before and brings experience to the table, something all appreciate. Six of the eight people on the team live in Shelby and all want to reassure residents that they don’t need to be fearful just because the CEO doesn’t live here.

“We talk to William every day, whether he is in town or not,” said Pehan. “He has experience and knowledge and is always only a phone call away.”

Kirkpatrick, who has also dealt with transitioned critical access care hospitals, brings more experience to the table. All agreed that if they receive proposals and none are acceptable they will reject them.

“We can keep doing what we are doing until we find the right partner,” said Hartwell. “All proposals will be considered.”

“It will still be the same hospital employees providing care,” said Kiefer. “But the new entity can bring more resources to them and being able to pull from policies and structure from a bigger entity will be a benefit, as well as more training and equipment, enhancing what we already have.”

 Kiefer added, “We are willing to have discussions and collaborate with the clinic to provide the best care to the community. We’re willing to have difficult conversations if it brings improvements.”

An open meeting will be held toward the end of October, the exact date will be announced by public notice in the Promoter

The RFP is only approved as a draft and can be amended, if need be. The draft RFP is available to the public and is available from the Clerk and Recorder’s Office in the Toole County Courthouse or can be read online at www.toolecountymt.gov.

 “In the end, the entire reason is to strengthen the hospital and make sure a hospital is still here to provide services to Toole County and the surrounding area,” said Kiefer. “We are open to discussing this with everyone.”

“We are really excited,” concluded Clark. “This is a real opportunity for the community and hospital.”

“This can only help, not hinder,” added Harwood.

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