ERH focused on changing public perception of local hospital
EVANSTON — Uinta County Economic Development Commission (UCEDC) chair Dan Wheeler opened the Aug. 23 meeting by saying the goal of the commission is to attract people and businesses to come here and to highlight what Evanston has to offer: good schools, recreation opportunities, medical facilities and the hospital.
He invited Evanston Regional Hospital CEO Cheri Willard to provide an update on any happenings at the hospital.
“The National Rural Health Association presents an annual award to recognize the best out of 850 rural hospitals in the nation. In 2022, we were in the top 100 and, in 2023, we are in the top 20. We are proud of that,” Willard said. “There are different metrics we are judged by including staff, turnover, community providers, technology and more. This is a huge thing for Evanston.”
ERH now has four primary care providers and three specialty providers, which include the areas of chronic pain management, pulmonology and neurology. The neurosurgeon, who has performed multiple spine procedures, visits once a month and also provides online interactive services to clients.
The hospital also has a sleep center, Willard said, where staff can test for sleep apnea and other ailments affecting sleep. The hospital also has new up-to-date equipment. Dr. Micah Pullins has performed more than 150 computer-assisted joint procedures.
Willard said they have had a hard time attracting OB/GYNs, so they “stepped out of the box” and recruited four board certified OB/GYNs who all share a full-time position. She said the four have purchased two houses so they can share living spaces when they are in Evanston, and they alternate weeks working at the hospital. They come from multiple states and, Willard said, this is a totally different concept from what the hospital has done before but it has been successful.
“Our goal is to provide high quality healthcare. We are recruiting down to earth physicians in order to fulfill that goal. We also are expanding our use of technology to provide services as a lack of housing in the city causes us to miss opportunities to secure medical professionals. We have a lot of leakage of medical professionals to Utah where they can secure housing,” Willard said.
Willard emphasized that all of the physicians have to be licensed in Wyoming and she said she thinks that is a good law. Nurses do not have to be licensed in each state. Just prior to the pandemic, Willard said, most states formed a compact to allow nurses to work across state lines; there are only a few states where a nurse has to go through their licensing process.
Commission member Jon Conrad asked Willard how they were going to change the negative attitude of the population toward the local hospital?
Willard said she thinks some of the negative attitude comes from ERH’s need to transport patients suffering from a heart attack or another major trauma. She said she thinks some of the negative attitudes came from old history, something that happened 20 or 30 years ago. She added that ERH is actively working toward changing that attitude through being more involved in the community and through good public relations.
ERH is actively involved in the community, Willard said. It sponsors the annual Evanston Women’s Conference and a local health fair. ERH also provides educational assistance by paying for tuition for nursing and lab tech programs. Students work part-time at the hospital while studying the programs. In the past, the hospital provided reimbursement to the student but, now, it offers tuition payment up front.
She added that ERH has a close working relationship with the University of Utah Hospital and patients who come to the emergency room can have interactive conferences with the ER doctor and a university hospital doctor.
Willard said a lack of housing and infrastructure in the area has been a definite block in recruiting physicians. She said the majority come from big cities and, when they come here, they see nothing like they had in the big cities.
Conrad then reported on the key performance indicators for the county. He said there are now 59 homes listed for sale. Gary Welling said there are two subdivisions planned in the Bridger Valley and one in Evanston. Conrad said there are 19 active oil rigs; and unemployment was at 3.4% in June.
Wheeler reported that the amount of lodging tax at the end of the fiscal year (June 30) was approximately $319,000, which is $2,000 ahead of last year. He reminded the commission that the city does not get all of the 5% lodging tax that is collected. The City of Evanston gets 3% and the state keeps 2%.
Evanston Community Development Director Rocco O’Neill said that 90% of that lodging tax revenue was spent marketing Evanston. He suggested everyone look at the new website visitevanston.com, which was developed with a grant.
Commission member Brent Hatch said the county also gets a lodging tax. The Uinta County Youth Camp contributes to that tax, as well as the Harmon Hotel in the valley and the KOA in Lyman, Hatch said.
Wheeler explained that the towns in the valley need to set it up legally so they receive that 3% of the lodging tax in the county. He said it is something that takes a vote and a procedure to do — and Mountain View had just done it.
O’Neill reported that the G4 account on the economic development website was finally done and is very active. They had 512 active users in the last 30 days. He said he is getting a lot of leads from it and, in the last few days, there were at least five “very interested” leads from it and one is a “very legitimate” lead.
Evanston resident Sue Vehar who was visiting the commission meeting asked about the old Wyoming State Hospital buildings and where things stand with the demolition.
“There is a lot of emotion in the community surrounding those buildings,” Vehar said. “It would be a shame to see them destroyed. I guess you know there are documents being distributed attempting to save them.”
Hatch said the “ball began to roll” in 2013 and the state decided they would demolish them. The utilities have all been turned off in the buildings. Hatch said the state will preserve the old administration building as a showcase for historical value.
“Rep. Lloyd Larsen from Fremont County, who was on the board of health concerning facilities and is now on the Joint Appropriations committee, is sort of ramrodding the whole demolition and they have set July 2024 as the date to begin demolition,” Hatch concluded.
Ingersoll added that the whole thing is controlled by two entities — the Wyoming Department of Health and the State of Wyoming — and that more than $15 million has been set aside for the demolition. She added that if the state were to sell them, they would have to legally put out a request for proposals.
The commission’s next meeting will be at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 27, at Lyman Town Hall.