S. Routt clinic open for April

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The South Routt Medical Center will have a physician assistant until the end of April, and possibly longer. What happens after that remains unknown.

Yampa Valley Medical Asso-ciates has agreed to provide the physician assistant on a month-by-month basis. A physician assistant is a person who is trained in practicing medicine and who reports to and is overseen by a doctor. No doctor is available at the medical center at this time.

"The clinic is still up and running," said Linda Long, president of the South Routt Medical Center Board of Directors. "Behind the scenes, (there) are a lot of financial worries right now."

Under an agreement between the board and YVMA, YVMA provides medical services and billing, and the medical center board oversees the building and makes sure the clinic is viable.

As the end of April approaches, YVMA will re-evaluate the situation and decide whether it will continue with the partnership, practice administrator Erik Sharp said.

In February, YVMA told the board that it might have to pull out of the partnership by the end of March.

The practice was not seeing enough patients or making enough money to justify the partnership, and the medical center board did not appear to have a vision for how the clinic could change, Sharp said. For instance, physician assistant Frankie Hannah sees about five people a day when she is at the Oak Creek clinic, Sharp said. In Steamboat Springs, she usually sees 10 people a day, and she can see as many as 20.

The medical center board is finding it difficult to pay its bills to keep the building functional. It has about $1,000 in bills a month for cleaning, electricity, water and sewer, Long said.

The medical center board has gotten some help from the town and other billing entities, and board members, including Long, are volunteering to clean the building, shovel snow and maintain the outside of the building. That should allow the group to function on its reserves, which Long would not specify, for about 10 to 12 months.

The medical center board, with the help of YVMA and other health officials, is pursuing potential ways to make the clinic work. Those efforts are encouraging to YVMA, Sharp said.

"We're optimistic that we'll be able to meet the needs that they may have, as long as we continue to see progress in their taking ownership of the destiny of the clinic," Sharp said.

Yampa Valley Medical Asso-ciates entered the partnership with the South Routt Medical Center about seven months ago. Last April, Steamboat Medical Group reorganized and had to dissolve a similar partnership with the medical center.

At a meeting Tuesday night, the medical center board, YVMA officials and other health officials brainstormed such changes.

Long said the medical center board's first step is to try to get a rural health designation for the clinic. They've tried unsuccessfully in the past, but this time around, the clinic should meet all required criteria, Long said. With that designation, medical practitioners would receive more reimbursement for Medicaid and Medicare patients.

The medical center board also is sending a few board members to an April workshop in Denver for rural health clinics. The board members will learn more about the designation and securing other grants, Long said.

Finally, the medical center board is considering asking voters to approve a special tax district that could help fund the medical center on a long-term basis.

Long said she thought YVMA was "going above and beyond" in trying to help the medical clinic survive.

It's time for the community to support the clinic by using it, she said.

"The community really has to buy into this if we're going to keep it open," Long said.

The South Routt Medical Center is open Wednesdays and Fridays with a physician assistant. Physical therapy is available Mondays and Wednesdays.

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