Medical Center hopes mill levy will help keep its doors open

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The South Routt Medical Center occupies a modest brick building on Main Street in downtown Oak Creek.

The unassuming structure, built in 1963, has served generations of patients from as far as McCoy, but this South Routt staple is facing a very uncertain future.

Because of low federal gov------ernment reimbursements for Medicaid and Medicare users and the high number of under- and uninsured patients, the center's operating costs are exceeding its revenues, said Linda Long, president of the medical center's board.

That could change May 2, when voters will consider approving a 1-mill levy to save the medical center, Long said.

"If the mill levy passes, then we would see a substantial increase in our funding," she said.

"That's something we need to ensure our ability to continue serving the community. In our history, we have never had to shut down. We always managed to keep our doors open somehow."

The proposed levy would raise property taxes about $8 per $100,000 of assessed value.

The center's board wanted the mill levy on the November ballot but missed the deadlines, Long said.

The board has been working for months with a business advisor to plan how to use the money if voters pass the mill levy.

"This is a good cause," said Catie Camilletti, a longtime Routt County resident.

Beyond financial difficulties, the center also had problems staffing a doctor whose hours were regular enough to be convenient, Camilletti said.

Camilletti said she has seen major improvement since July, when semi-retired physician Bill Geserick agreed to work there.

"This is the first time we have seen a commitment from a doctor in like 20 or 30 years," she said.

A major issue was that the medical center could not offer doctors competitive salaries, Camilletti said.

"It's great that (Geserick) is not concerned with making a million dollars. He is more concerned with the welfare of the clinic," she said.

Geserick moved to the Stagecoach area from Denver, where he had been the medical director for Coors for eight years. He practices familly medicine and sees clients of all ages.

Geserick said that in the past four months, things have begun looking up at the clinic and that he has begun building a consistent patient base.

"We have seen steady growth here at the clinic. I probably see about 10 patients a day, but there are days I can see as many as 20," he said.

Geserick said he has been encouraged in recent months and is anticipating adding a third full day of staffing at the clinic after the new year.

The clinic's physical therapist, Tom Collins, already added a third day at the clinic.

Geserick said he thinks the community has rallied behind the medical center because of the consistent hours and because a doctor, not a physician's assistant, is staffing the clinic.

Camilletti, Long and Geser--ick said they think the medical center is crucial to South Routt because it's the only medical facility conveniently located for area residents.

Long said it's difficult for senior citizens to drive to Steamboat Springs or Vail for medical attention and that the bus system is inconvenient because people often have to wait several hours.

"I just think that this center is a wonderful thing, and it keeps this community healthy," Camilletti said.

Recently, the medical center board mailed a survey to every post office box in South Routt asking residents whether they would support the mill levy.

The board received 431 responses from 1,337 surveys mailed. Of the replies, 304 supported the mill levy and 127 opposed it.

"The people who were in opposition to the mill levy said they didn't think the medical center was necessary because they never used it," she said.

"Overall, I think people here are just sick of seeing any kind of tax increase for whatever reason."

Long said the benefits of the tax increase would far outweigh the disadvantages.

"If the mill levy doesn't pass, I suppose we will have some heavy decisions to make," Long said.

"Right now, we're not thinking in those terms. I am positive it will pass; we just don't know what the ends will be."

If the mill levy were to pass, county commissioners likely would oversee the formation of a board to administer the money to improve the facility, develop new, specialized services such as dentistry, and pay Geserick, Long said.

Camilletti said the board will meet Jan. 3 with commissioners to go over a service plan that includes budget and facility plans.

-- To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234

or e-mail adelacruz@steamboatpilot.com

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