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Tonopah’s hospital closing town’s top story for 2015

TONOPAH – This year brought many impactful news reports to the Nye County seat of Tonopah. They include in no particular order:

County budget issues impacting many programs such as senior nutrition, the jail and animal control;

The Clines’ continued investment in Tonopah with the opening of Tonopah Brewing Company;

The departure of Tonopah Town Manager James Eason;

A recall petition began circulating against Tonopah Town Board Chairman Horace Carlyle;

The passing of Bill Roberts, longtime reporter, columnist and former owner of the Tonopah Times-Bonanza & Goldfield News newspaper.

While the list is not meant to be fully inclusive or ranked in order of importance, one story clearly stands out as being the most impactful, not only in Tonopah but the central Nevada region in general.

The closing of the Nye Regional Medical Center on Aug. 21 left the town without an acute care facility for nearly 100 miles.

The surprise announcement by Center CEO Wayne Allen, said that the closing was necessitated by increasing debt after earlier efforts to save the hospital by arranging partnerships with other health care organizations proved unsuccessful due to the hospital’s small size and remote location.

“The hospital operations cannot be sustained any longer with expenses greater than revenues,” said Allen when announcing the closing on Aug. 19.

The year had started out promising for the hospital, at least publicly, with the 12-bed facility and clinic beginning to emerge from bankruptcy. In December 2014, the county approved a bankruptcy settlement agreement, a new 20-year lease agreement with a restructured Prime Care Nevada and a distancing from the facility’s former director, Dr. Vincent Scoccia.

“This puts the hospital in a very good position to emerge from bankruptcy and to have a sustainable future,” said Talitha Gray Kozlowski, a Las Vegas-based attorney hired by the county to work on the bankruptcy.

On Jan. 15, the new hospital administration held its first “health needs assessment community input meeting.” In February, Allen, a hospital administration veteran with more than 40 years in the health care industry, was hired to oversee the hospital. But the optimism was short-lived as the financial cracks were starting to resurface.

In April, the county was proposing the establishment of a hospital tax district to bring an influx of cash to what was being openly referred to as a “financially struggling” medical facility. The county had loaned the facility nearly $2.5 million by that time, leveraged against the hospital’s assets.

On April 7, Tonopah Town Manager James Eason told the Nye County Commission the medical center was struggling to make payroll. It was estimated at that time the hospital’s operators were already $1 million in debt, some of it coming from the inability to collect unpaid medical bills. The county forged ahead with the plan for a tax district it said would bring an estimated $750,000 in tax revenue annually.

Allen publicly pushed forward, holding a community meeting in late May to discuss a “community health assessment” and talk about the center’s future. But the future was to be short-lived, despite the county authorizing another $500,000 loan in late July. In that loan request from Prime Care was the caveat to assure continued provision of services by physicians, suppliers and employees through August.

By Aug. 21 the hospital closed, and the accompanying clinic closed Sept. 4, leaving Tonopah, Goldfield and the region without an emergency department, inpatient care, laboratory, radiology, respiratory and outpatient therapies.

“This is a tragic loss for the population served by our hospital,” Allen said. “This is a decision that will ultimately jeopardize the health and well-being of our community and surrounding areas. We are hopeful that another health care entity will see this lack of access to health care as an opportunity.”

Four months later the building remains closed. However, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon.

On Tuesday, Nye County commissioners will discuss a possible professional service agreement between the hospital district and Reno-based nonprofit medical services provider Renown Medical Group to “provide professional primary and urgent care services.”

Contact Editor Arnold M. Knightly at aknightly@pvtimes.com. On Twitter: @KnightlyGrind

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