Our View: Health care message

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Yampa Valley Medical Center must take steps to ensure that recent changes to its Healthcare Foundation don't send the wrong message about the hospital's commitment to the health care needs of the region that shares the hospital's name.

The board of directors for the Healthcare Foundation of the Yampa Valley recently was disbanded, and the medical center has assumed oversight of the charitable foundation. The decision to disband the 11-member foundation board apparently came after disagreement about the role of the foundation. Some board members felt the funds raised by the foundation should go primarily to hospital causes; others felt the foundation had a broader role of serving public health concerns throughout Northwest Colorado.

We understand Yampa Valley Medical Center's desire to ensure that the hospital's needs are met first. In this rural, isolated area, the community is fortunate to have a nonprofit hospital of the quality of YVMC that is not supported by a local tax. The board of directors and administration deserves credit for protecting the financial health of the hospital at a time when other small towns are struggling simply to keep the doors of their community hospitals open in the face of rising costs and increased competition.

But it is concerning that the hospital chose to disband the Healthcare Foundation board. Fair or not, the decision sends the message that the hospital has a narrow view of how health care donations in the Yampa Valley should be spent.

The Healthcare Foundation began functioning in January 2002 as the charitable arm of the hospital. In 2003, it had total revenues of $527,689 from contributions, fund-raisers and interest income. The foundation disbursed more than $319,000, funding 51 requests, including $185,000 for computerized mammography equipment for the hospital, the single largest grant.

The Healthcare Foundation also provided funds to the Grand County Council on Aging, Pioneers Hospital of Rio Blanco County, Steamboat Mental Health, Advocates Against Battering and Abuse, the Humble Ranch, Colorado Northwestern Community College, the Independent Life Center and the Miles for Smiles dental program, among others. These grants were used to provide services such as transporting elderly patients to medical appointments, creating a teen violence prevention program and funding a faculty position for a nursing program.

It is our view that, while such health-related programs may not directly benefit Yampa Valley Medical Center, they do benefit the hospital indirectly. If medical personnel have broader access to education and training because money is spent on nursing programs at area community colleges, the hospital benefits. If emergency procedures for uninsured patients are prevented by funding free or low-cost health-care services outside of the hospital, the hospital benefits.

Above all, if residents and agencies in outlying areas think that Yampa Valley Medical Center genuinely cares about ensuring healthier communities throughout Northwest Colorado, then the hospital benefits by widening its donor and patient base.

Steamboat Springs is fortunate to have the facility and services of Yampa Valley Medical Center. As we said, the administration and staff have been wonderfully successful caretakers of the hospital. But as the hospital goes about reorganizing its charitable foundation, we would urge it to remember the health care needs beyond the hospital's doors and the benefits of meeting those needs to the medical center as well as the Yampa Valley.

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