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County poised to approve Tonopah contract amid questions

Nye County Commissioner Lorinda Wichman plans to “champion through” a new health care model for Tonopah despite questions raised by the Nevada Department of Taxation committee this week about the legality of using hospital tax district revenues for the provider’s contract.

As county officials ready to approve a professional service agreement with Reno-based Renown Health for the Nye Regional Medical Center next Tuesday, a state oversight board recommended a fiscal watch for the county because of its ongoing financial straits and practices, calling them “a pattern.”

Among some of the issues that were raised during the Jan. 26 meeting were an unexpected large write-off of bad debt related to the loan to Prime Care Inc., the former operator of Nye Regional Medical Center and the agreement with Renown Health that aims to use Northern Nye County Hospital taxing district resources.

Fiscal watch is a low-level monitoring of the finances that creates greater cooperation and exchange of information with the state. The measure will allow county officials to ask for technical financial assistance from Nevada.

Fiscal watch is not a criminal procedure, Terry Rubald, deputy executive director for the Nevada Department of Taxation said in an email following the meeting. The state Attorney General’s office is not investigating the county’s financial practices, spokesperson Monica Moazez said Thursday.

Rubald said during the meeting Tuesday in Carson City and Las Vegas that it does not appear that Renown Health is going to offer services compatible with providing the full hospital, as they will not provide the pharmacy, laboratory or dietary services that are required by statute.

“If this is correct, the district may not use tax revenue to pay Renown’s contract,” Rubald said.

Nye County created a hospital district on May 29, 2015 and levied a tax rate of 20 cents to help the Nye Regional Medical Center after it emerged from bankruptcy. The district covers most of Nye County with exception of Pahrump and Beatty.

Renown Health was the only health care provider who emerged after the financially struggling facility closed its doors on Sept. 4, 2015 as its expenses continued surpassing revenues.

Unlike a traditional hospital, Renown Medical Group will provide professional primary and urgent care services that will consist of telemedicine, primary care providers, physicians and urgent care.

According to NRS 450.660 paragraph 3C, the property tax imposed by the district may only be used for the purpose for which it was raised. The hospital district only has the authority to levy a tax to operate a full-fledged hospital.

Wichman, who represents the area on the county commission, spoke in defense of the new model that is offered by Renown.

“Right, wrong or indifferent, legal or illegal, I’m going to do everything I can to champion that model through,” she said. “I have no choice folks, I have no choice. I’m watching my neighbors die literally, and I’m waiting for one accident, one accident on Highway 95 or Highway 6 and we are all toast. Because if we can’t pay the liability on that, guess where it goes.”

Wichman was backed by former Tonopah Town Manager James Eason and former chairman of the board for Prime Care Inc., and Nye County commission Chair Frank Carbone who said that the new model was the only way to keep the hospital alive in a heavily-traveled area of Central Nevada.

“We are starting all over to provide medical services in central nevada and the only entity that stepped up to the plate is Renown. We reached out to St. Mary’s, we reached out to Manor, we reached out to Desert View Hospital. You know what all those folks said? ‘We’d love to help you but it’s not sustainable. You can not keep the current model in place.'”

“We support what our team has done to the best of our ability, knowing that maybe there were some issues,” Carbone said.

“Our team did the best we could with the tools we had and the monies that we get,” he added. “People need to get this is one of the poorest counties in the 50 states … and we are the poorest county within this state.”

-Contact reporter Daria Sokolova at dsokolova@pvtimes.com. On Twitter: @dariasokolova77

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