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Hospital liaison board hangs it up

by Christy Chalmers

Members of the Minden Medical Center Liaison Board have prided themselves for nearly 20 years on knowing what services Carson Valley residents wanted Carson-Tahoe Hospital to provide.

So they readily acknowledged what some say was the writing on the wall when Carson-Tahoe decided to lease its new medical center to a private group. They voted to decommission the liaison board.

“It’s always been wonderful and they’ve always very supportive and listened to us. It’s just now that it’s taking a different turn, it’s not in our mission statement to be there any more,” said board member Carol Aldax. “That’s basically what it came down to.”

Aldax was appointed to the nine-member board in 1986 or 87. The group was founded in 1981, when Carson-Tahoe Hospital first opened the Carson Valley Health Center in Minden, as an advisory board to the C-TH board of trustees.

C-TH replaced the clinic in 1998 with the Minden Medical Center, a complex that includes an emergency room, medical offices and meeting space.

But mounting losses forced hospital trustees to rethink operating the Carson Valley center. A profit-loss statement provided by hospital administrator Steve Smith shows C-TH had lost more than $447,000 as of May 31 in the 1999 fiscal year. The loss for fiscal year 1998 topped $64,000 and the loss for FY 1997 topped $39,000 – a total of $550,845 for the three years.

The hospital board decided to lease operation of the urgent care center to Physicians Select Management, a local group of doctors based in Carson City, effective Oct. 1. Smith said the two sides are working on a final contract, and that Physicians Select is also in line to manage clinics the hospital plans to establish in Dayton and Carson City.

– Amicable breakup. With that commitment made, the liaison board took up the matter of its own existence.

“It’s kind of like a ‘so what’ anymore,” explained liaison board member Virginia Nenzel, who said she was appointed in 1996 or 1997. “This will be a private entity (running the center) and that’s wonderful. We kind of outlived our usefulness.”

The liaison group outlined its opinion in a letter to the C-TH board, and the two sides later met.

“We had a joint meeting with them last weekend, and they indicated they hated to see us go, but also understood our mission was not the same as it was before,” said Aldax.

Aldax and Nenzel said the liaison board will be dissolving on good terms. They agree with Smith that the hospital board always tried to keep the liaison members updated and included in the hospital’s Carson Valley ventures, and the liaisons responded with accurate advice on serving residents.

“I remember often in the eight years I was here, we would change our hours of operation,” said Smith. “They were the ones who were involved with that. They probably knew it better than most of the employees at the hospital.”

Two calls to Physicians Select seeking comment on whether that group is interested in a liaison board or other community-based advisory group were not returned. Still, C-TH may yet have space for a “restructured” liaison board, a proposal Smith said is still being formed.

“Some of the (hospital) board members want (the liaison) to continue, but now that they’re not the liaison board for the Minden center, it will take on a different form,” said Smith.

If that happens, the current board members would probably be asked to staff the new group, at least until it gets organized.

The liaison board still has a Sept. 12 meeting planned, which would be its last if no other arrangements are made.

– Rumors start. Smith praised the liaison board for the job it has done, and noted its demise has even triggered rumors that the Minden Medical Center is closing.

“We’ve heard from some residents that they’re hearing that we’re closing completely, and we’re not,” he said. “We’re expanding the services by adding occupational medicine.

“Physicians Select is only in charge of the clinic. The rest of the center is still owned and leased by the hospital.”

Smith said the 13 medical center employees have been offered jobs at the hospital, and Physicians Select may hire some of them. He also emphasized privatizing the clinic is intended to enhance health care options in the region.

“We thought that it all fit in because what we had hoped to do is, if you’re employed by a large employer with workers who live in Carson City or Dayton or Minden and it’s a weekend, they (workers) could go to any of these clinics. If you’re seeing one physician, they can refer the patient around but still get the patient back,” he said. “We’re just hoping that it’s going to be a good medical relationship with the medical staff and the patients.”