Valley View busy enough to justify expansion, says CEO
Special to Colorado Mountain News Media
Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs started off small but now offers specialty care unique to the region between metro Denver and Grand Junction or Salt Lake City. Brain surgery, spinal care, cardiology, a comprehensive cancer-care program, a unique robotics lab — Valley View offers services rare for a rural hospital.
Locals paying $1,400 a month for family health insurance premiums wonder if the long list of services is one of the reasons the costs are so high.
It’s complicated. The offerings are justified because Valley View draws patients from a wide geographic area — and does enough surgeries to fill the doctors’ schedules, CEO Gary Brewer said.
“We have two neurosurgeons, two radiation oncologists, two medical oncologists — and enough work to keep them very busy,” Brewer said. “If we didn’t have the volume, we wouldn’t attract the skilled physicians, because they want to keep busy to hone their skills.”
“If they weren’t coming, we wouldn’t offer the service,” Brewer said. “We don’t have enough population here for a cancer center, but we draw from Meeker, Steamboat Springs, all over.”
With weather-related closures of highways, without Valley View, people who have to get daily radiation treatments would be stuck, he said. “It is incumbent upon our board to provide services so patients don’t have to travel outside the valley.”
Sixty years ago, when Valley View was established, the whole hospital and all its equipment cost about $800,000 — half of what it costs today to purchase a single CT scanner.
As health-care costs continue to climb — 16 percent to 18 percent of gross domestic product — hospital executives say they do what they can to help people facing daunting bills.
Valley View has launched a new policy whereby it offers a 40 percent discount to those in the individual insurance market whose earnings are between 400 percent and 500 percent of the federal poverty level. A married couple earning between $64,000 and about $80,000 fits into that sweet spot.
The Obamacare years have seen a steep decline in the number of patients categorized as self-pay, that is, uninsured, with a corresponding increase in those who are on Medicare. And Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid — providing the care for those whose household income is up to 139 percent of the federal poverty level — has helped lower the pot of uncompensated care.
That has helped Valley View — $10.5 million in unreimbursed charity care in 2016 versus $16.3 million in 2010, Brewer said. But it remains a challenge because of increasing numbers of Medicare and Medicaid patients, and the federal reimbursements don’t cover all the costs.
He’s hoping that if there is a repeal of Obamacare, Congress puts back the cuts in Medicare and Medicaid. That would be good for hospitals but likely cause taxes or premiums to head northward.
Several Garfield County businesses that self-insure are suggesting to their employees incentives to shop around, get their hospital care in metro Denver or elsewhere where the bills aren’t as big.
Brewer said, “We know some people are going to go elsewhere no matter what, they also go to Denver to buy a car.” He noted that 84 percent of the residents in Valley View’s main service area choose the local hospital for inpatient services. In fact, residents of eastern Colorado are much more likely to go to Denver for health care than are those on the western side of the Continental Divide.
“That’s one reason we need to offer as many quality services as we can and to expand those services,” Brewer said. “Otherwise, people would have to drive 160 miles to Denver. That’s why we always put money back into this hospital.”
Brewer defended the valet parking and the shiny new buildings, noting that valet parking is essential because of parking limitations, and sick patients can’t be walking far after finding a spot on the streets. Regarding the lovely new building with its grand piano and gas fireplaces, he said, “It costs about the same to build a beautiful building as an ugly one. We chose beautiful.”