RIVERTON — “We have a problem. Not a problem of our own creation,” longtime Riverton physician Richard Sorenson of Riverton said Monday night to a gathering of approximately 300 people assembled at Central Wyoming College.
Sorensen spoke to the third public meeting of Save Our Riverton Hospital, as did attorney and former Riverton mayor John Vincent about concerns over the continuing erosion of health care at the SageWest Health Care hospital in Riverton.
“It is inconceivable that we can’t have babies delivered in Riverton,” Sorenson said, citing one of the sorest points in the hospital discussion. “We need to have 24/7 surgery and orthopedic surgeons, too. Not long ago we had two in Riverton and three in Lander, now we have none.”
Sorensen described how Medicare and Medicaid payments are derived from diagnostic-related metrics.
“A sole community hospital gets a higher reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid,” Sorensen said.
With a facility in Riverton and another in Lander, SageWest could not charge the higher rates available with a sole community hospital. By eliminating almost every service from Riverton, a facility separated by 28.4 miles from the Lander hospital as detailed in an internal document created by SageWest in 2013, SageWest was able to charge the higher rates.
Under this model, Sorenson said, Riverton patients would have to drive to Lander for services, and the higher volume at the higher rate would result in more profit for SageWest through elimination of services in Riverton.
The doctor related the story of Mountain View Regional Hospital in Casper.
“Wyoming Medical Center was the sole provider for years,” Sorenson said. “Mountain View came in, and Wyoming Medical lost $8 million a year” because of the Medicare and Medicaid rate system.
Wyoming Medical Center regained the higher rate in April by purchasing the assets of Mountain View Regional Hospital and returning to sole-provider status.
“We have a problem with LifePoint (the parent company of SageWest),” Sorenson said. “We can’t get rid of them.”
In his parting comments Sorenson thanked the large crowd for attending and said “Riverton, let ‘er buck, and we can tell LifePoint to buck off,” to a round of laughter and applause.
Vincent then stepped to the microphone on stage at the Robert A. Peck Arts Center Theater and surprised the crowd with slides of an internal PowerPoint presentation created by former SageWest CEO Steve Erixon in 2013.
Vincent related key portions of the PowerPoint, which laid out plans to eliminate most of the services at SageWest Riverton.
Vincent related how the present corporate atmosphere and denial of services at SageWest has eliminated the community aspect of healthcare in Riverton.
“We used to be familiar with our doctors, nurses and staff,” Vincent said. “They were our friends and family.”
Vincent said Riverton city administrator Tony Tolstedt planned to act as a mediator in a meeting between SageWest administrators and members of the Save Our Riverton Hospital committee.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I like solutions, getting people to meet, to put aside their differences, and solve a problem,” Vincent said.
Vincent offered a hypothetical business situation as an example of why Riverton needs a real hospital.
“Suppose a small drilling company moves to Riverton, and they’re working out at Pavillion and a piece of pipe hits a roughneck in the head. We need to get him to a hospital right away, not one clear across the county,” Vincent said. “How do you save their lives?”
Riverton is predominantly a blue-collar community based on agriculture, mining and drilling, Vincent said.
“We are workers, and workers get hurt. We have to have a place locally where they can be treated.”
Vincent praised the Northern Arapaho tribe for efforts in providing health care to their people at a renovated 12th Street Medical Clinic in Riverton.
“They have seen this coming,” Vincent said. “They’ve taken on the job of providing health services to their people.”
The new Riverton facility intends to offer surgery, OBGYN and urgent care with physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners.
“We need to have solutions like the Arapaho tribe has,” Vincent said. “LifePoint broke this, and they need to fix it.
“It is noble that LifePoint comes to this mediation. We have to talk to our elected officials, churches and family to fix this.
“They’re (LifePoint) not bad people. They’re under a lot of stress. They’re not evil, but they have a different viewpoint.”