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Wyoming Medical Center to acquire Mountain View Regional Hospital

Wyoming Medical Center has announced an agreement to acquire Mountain View Regional Hospital in Casper, WMC announced Wednesday morning.

Mountain View is slated to begin operating under the WMC banner in the first half of the year, according to the release. No details about the deal were provided and WMC spokeswoman Kristy Bleizeffer said the hospital would have no comment until after the deal was finalized.

“WMC has served Casper patients and families for more than a century. Over the years, we have evolved to meet patient and community needs in a rapidly changing healthcare market, and we continue to evolve as conditions require,” WMC CEO Michele Chulick said in a statement.

“The acquisition of Mountain View Regional Hospital is simply one more step in that evolution,” Chulick, who took over as CEO last July, continued, “and is being undertaken based on the belief that it will allow WMC to more effectively fulfill our core non-profit mission: ‘To advance the health and wellness of our region and community by providing excellent healthcare services and exceptional experience at reasonable costs.’”

Wyoming Medical Center is one of the largest hospitals in the state. Mountain View, based in east Casper, is more specialized, offering “inpatient and outpatient surgery, with a specialty in neurosurgery, as well as on-site imaging and musculoskeletal physician services across the state of Wyoming,” according to the release.

Two competitors

Wyoming Hospital Association president Eric Boley said that only Casper and Rock Springs have multiple hospitals. In addition to Wyoming Medical Center and Mountain View, Casper is also home to Summit Medical Center.

Boley said that the merger of the two facilities was a positive step for Casper and tracks a nationwide trend. He said that larger hospitals often acquire smaller, more specialized hospitals in order to consolidate market share and offer a more complete suite of services to patients.

“What happened in Casper with Mountain View is not uncommon,” Boley said.

Mountain View was founded by three former WMC neurosurgeons in 2008 after a dispute over their desire to have their own operating room team. The hospital expanded beyond neurosurgery and opened an emergency room, eventually siphoning enough business from WMC that the larger facility lost its “sole community provider status” in 2011, which cost it millions in federal funding.

At the time, WMC officials and a Natrona County commissioner blamed Mountain View.

“The worst thing that happened to health care in this community was the for-profit hospital,” Bill McDowell, a former county commissioner and WMC board member, said in 2011.

Boley noted that while some health care analysts argue that competition between multiple hospitals in a community is good, WMC was handicapped by its obligation to take care of all patients.

“WMC has been basically the community hospital that’s taking care of Medicare, Medicaid, the uninsured, so it was unfair competition,” Boley said. “This levels that playing field.”

The sour relationship between the two hospitals apparently mended in recent years. The deal has been rumored to be in negotiations since July 2017, as previous CEO Vickie Diamond was preparing to retire. Mountain View also hired a new CEO last year, promoting Chief Financial Officer Renee Schroyer.

Schroyer and Chulick both listed collaborations with other Wyoming health care providers as primary goals.

“Mountain View was created to provide a hospital with a dedicated focus on musculoskeletal disease,” said Todd Hammond, founder and current chairman of Mountain View’s board. “During its eight years of operations, it has been successful in achieving this mission as evidenced by its numerous awards and recognitions. ... By becoming part of WMC, we are now able to continue that focus and have the advantage of access to their tertiary facility and the many outstanding caregivers on their staff.”

County deal continues

Wyoming Medical Center operates as a quasi-public institution, with Natrona County owning the hospital’s buildings as well as major equipment like MRI machines, said County Commission Chairman John Lawson. WMC leases back that property for $1 per year and in exchange provides care to the indigent and absorbs the cost of any unpaid debts for patient care.

“It really works out well for the county to be sure those kind of services continue to be provided to the community at-large,” Lawson said.

Lawson said he believes that WMC is purchasing Mountain View’s hospital building in east Casper and assuming control of the staff, but that the land that Mountain View leased to build its facility would remain in the hands of an investment group. WMC would then turn over control of the Mountain View building to the county and lease it back for $1 per year as part of its larger arrangement with the commissioners.

Doug Diehl steps down as Natrona County girls basketball coach

Doug Diehl, who oversaw one of the most dominant runs in Wyoming high school girls basketball history, is stepping down as head coach of the Natrona County Fillies. He will retire from teaching in 2020.

Over a nine-year span during Diehl’s 11-year tenure, the Fillies produced 13 college players, won nine consecutive regional championships, won eight consecutive Peach Baskets and tallied 68 consecutive Class 4A West Conference victories. He leaves with a 220-70 overall record and a 99-11 conference mark. The Fillies also qualified for the state tournament and won at least one game there in all 11 years.

“I just got tired,” Diehl told the Star-Tribune on Monday.

Diehl has taught for 28 years and coached for 26 of those years. Through the years he coached at every level except freshmen. He coached at the sub-varsity level for the first 15 years before spending two brief years in New Mexico. He then returned to take over as head coach of the Fillies.

Multiple factors led Diehl to his decision to walk away. The lack of a youth program in Casper has led to a decreased knowledge of fundamentals when potential players come in as freshmen, he said. Until this year, Natrona County had only one gym building, forcing the Fillies to share the facility with the boys’ team as well as with most physical education classes. Diehl also had a health scare over the summer, forcing him to reevaluate his priorities. The days of sweeping the gym floor with his lesson plan in his pocket were forced to end.

An admittedly poor sleeper, Diehl would also jot down ideas onto the notepad rested on the bedside table. This would happen during the winter season at times as late as 3:30 a.m.

“I used to think about it non-stop,” he said. “I think my wife is going to be happy that’s done. Now I’m going to be dreaming about fishing.”

Diehl took pride in his player development. If a committed player came through, he knew how to help that player reach her full potential. If an already gifted player had that same commitment, Diehl made sure she became something special.

On the Fillies’ 2014 state championship team, four of their starting five players went on to play college basketball, two of them for NCAA Division I programs. The most notable of which was three-time Wyoming Gatorade Player of the Year Kaylee Johnson, who just finished her playing career at Stanford. The other was Gabby Johnson, who starred at Casper College before finishing her playing career at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Then there were players like Katie Mayhue, who began her high school career at Natrona County but moved to Oregon after her freshman year. Mayhue since made her verbal commitment to play basketball at Oregon State.

“People recruit your program because they know there’s discipline, there’s fundamentals,” Diehl said. “I’ve had a coach in Denver ask who would like to play. Not who to look at, but who would like to play.”

While revisiting his coaching career, Diehl said a game against Green River stood out. The Wolves won the opening tip-off and beat the Fillies back for an opening layup. The halftime score went on to be 48-3 after the Fillies went on a 48-1 run to end the the half. Naturally, Diehl received push-back for his team allegedly “running the score” up on opponents. But there was nothing malicious about it, in Diehl’s view.

“The thing is that if the kid puts in the time and energy,” he said, “I’m not going to penalize a kid for doing what I ask them to do, for playing that hard.”

That could, possibly, be a reason the Fillies were the gold standard of the West Conference during Diehl’s coaching tenure.

File, Star-Tribune 

Natrona County's girls basketball head coach Doug Diehl talks with his team during a timeout against Green River on Feb. 2 in Casper.

Ryan says he'll retire, leaving big election-year GOP vacuum

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan abruptly announced Wednesday he will retire rather than seek another term in Congress as the steady if reluctant wingman for President Donald Trump, sending new ripples of uncertainty through a Washington already on edge and a Republican Party bracing for a rough election year.

The Wisconsin Republican cast the decision to end his 20-year career as a personal one — he doesn't want his children growing up with a "weekend dad" — but it will create a vacuum at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. It will leave congressional Republicans without a measured voice to talk Trump away from what some see as damaging impulses, and it will rob Trump of an influential steward to shepherd his more ambitious ideas into legislation.

It's unusual for a House speaker, third in line to succeed the president, to turn himself into a lame duck, especially so for Ryan, a once-rising GOP star who is only 48 and was the party's vice presidential candidate in 2012. His decision fueled fresh doubts about the party's ability to fend off a Democratic wave, fed by opposition to Trump, in November. And it threw the House into a leadership battle that could end up pushing Ryan aside sooner than he intended and crush any hopes for significant legislation before the election.

Ryan, though, said he had no regrets after having accomplished "a heckuva lot" during his time in a job he never really wanted. He said fellow Republicans have plenty of achievements to run on this fall, including the tax cuts Congress delivered, which have been his personal cause and the centerpiece of his small-government agenda, even though they helped skyrocket projected annual deficits toward $1 trillion.

"I have given this job everything I have," Ryan said.

Speculation over Ryan's future had been swirling for months, but as he dialed up colleagues and spoke by phone with Trump early Wednesday, the news stunned even top allies.

Ryan announced his plans at a closed-door meeting of House Republicans. Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina said an emotional Ryan "choked up a few times trying to get through" his remarks and received three standing ovations.

He later briefly thanked Trump in public for giving him the chance to move GOP ideas ahead.

While Ryan was crucial in getting the tax cuts passed, a prime Trump goal, he and the president have had a difficult relationship. Trump showed impatience with Congress' pace in dealing with his proposals, and Ryan had to deal with a president who shared little of his interest in policy detail.

Still, for many Republicans, it's unclear who will be left in leadership to counterbalance Trump. Ryan has been "a steady force in contrast to the president's more mercurial tone," said Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina. "That's needed."

The speaker had been heading toward this decision since late last year, said a person familiar with his thinking, but as recently as February he had considered running for another term. His own father died suddenly of a heart attack when he was 16, and though Ryan is in good health, the distance from his family weighed on him. A final decision was made over the two-week congressional recess, which he partly spent on a family vacation in the Czech Republic.

Ryan, from Janesville, Wisconsin, was first elected to Congress in 1998. Along with Reps. Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy, he branded himself a rising "Young Gun" in an aging party, a new breed of hard-charging Republican ready to shrink the size of government.

He was GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's running mate in 2012.

Ryan was pulled into the leadership job by the sudden retirement in 2015 of Speaker John Boehner, who had struggled to control the chamber's restless conservative wing. He has had more trust with the hardliners in the House.

"That's probably his greatest gift to us," said Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota. "His ability to bridge the vast divide."

House Majority Leader McCarthy, a Californian known to be tighter with Trump, is expected to again seek the top leadership post that slipped from his reach in 2015. He will likely compete with Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. Both men spoke at the closed-door meeting Wednesday, delivering tributes to Ryan, and both attended a GOP leadership dinner Wednesday night with Trump at the White House.

Another potential rival, Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, demurred when asked if he'd pursue the speaker's job. "Leadership has never been on my bucket list, and it's not on my bucket list today," he said.

Ryan's announcement came as Republicans are bracing for a potential blue wave of voter enthusiasm for Democrats, who need to flip at least 24 GOP-held seats in November to regain the majority.

As the House GOP's top fundraiser, Ryan's lame-duck status could send shockwaves through donor circles that are relying on his leadership at the helm of the House majority. He has hauled in $54 million so far this election cycle.

"It injects some more uncertainty to be sure," said the No. 2 Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas.

Deadly fire at Casper senior citizen apartments caused by cigarette, investigators say

A March fire that killed one person in a Casper apartment building that houses senior citizens was caused by a person smoking too closely to an oxygen concentration device, a Casper Fire-EMS spokesman said Wednesday.

The device, known commonly as an oxygen concentrator, takes ambient air and enriches the content of oxygen. Such devices can be used in lieu of bottled oxygen delivery systems to treat medical conditions that require a person have access to more oxygen than would otherwise be available.

A person was smoking near the device in St. Anthony Manor when a blaze ignited, fire spokesman Dane Andersen said. He said it was unclear whether the smoker’s ember had lit other flammable material before the medical device intensified the fire or if the ember and the concentrator alone had begun the blaze.

Andersen said it appeared the person who died in the fire, 70-year-old Sharon Lee Marzocca, was the person smoking the cigarette. There were no other people in her apartment, Andersen said. He noted that his agency could not specify a cause of death, which is the responsibility of the Natrona County Coroner’s Office.

A coroner’s office employee said Wednesday morning that details regarding Marzocca’s death could only be released with the submission of a form. She estimated the time until she could release those documents to the Star-Tribune as about 24 hours.

The fire broke out around 10:30 a.m. March 1 in an apartment on the seventh floor of the building. It killed Marzocca and a pet.

Although the blaze was contained to one unit within the building, the smoke spread over multiple floors.

Some people evacuated the building of their own accord. By 1 p.m. residents were trickling back into the building. None of the residents were displaced by the fire.

St. Anthony’s Manor is an eight-story building on the corner of East Sixth Street. Archdiocesan Housing of Denver manages the building, which offers affordable housing for seniors and people who have mobility impairments. Residents must be at least 62 years old.

A fire that broke out less than a mile away and approximately 13 hours prior is still being investigated, Andersen said Wednesday.

The other blaze, which broke out at 9 p.m. on Feb. 28 in a Second Street apartment near the intersection with Center Street, hospitalized one person for smoke inhalation.

Andersen said Wednesday investigation of the Second Street fire was delayed because of asbestos in the building. Fire inspectors will compare their findings with those of private insurance investigators before releasing the results.