The community of Riverton has come together to address very serious concerns regarding health care in our town. In some ways, it is a testament to the very real sense of empowerment a community can feel when we recognize a problem, and address it head on.
In analyzing this, one has to look at the issues that Riverton began to face, and then realize that a very serious problem was developing.
SageWest Health Care is a for-profit medical company. The company decided that a “consolidation of services” was warranted between Lander and Riverton. As they implemented that, Riverton began to lose services, including surgical capabilities and obstetrics, among others. Because of this, alternate methods of delivering necessary, and even emergency, care had to be found. The consequences have been astounding. In 2014, there were 155 life flight transfers out of Riverton. 5 years later, there were almost 1,000. That is unsustainable. It should be. It also burdens other health care facilities around the state. Instead of simply having the necessary services available in our centrally-located population hub of over 20,000 people.
There have been doctors from around the state, and studies done that also demonstrate this stark reality:
“Riverton stands out as having some of the worst access to hospital services in the state”, taken from a Wyoming Department of Health hospital viability study conducted in October of 2019.
The Medical Director of Trauma, Dr. Lisa Burton, penned a letter expressing the dire condition of the access to emergent medical services in Riverton. “…we became aware that trauma and other basic medical services in Riverton and the surrounding areas have become severely compromised over the past five years. Currently, Riverton has no surgical coverage. As a result, Riverton area patients with urgent and emergent surgical needs are having to be transferred to other health care facilities. This can often tax the resources at other facilities, but more importantly, this is a tremendous burden for Riverton patients, families, health care providers, prehospital and air ambulance staff.” “Riverton, the city with the largest population in Fremont County, needs a hospital with continuous quality basic medical, trauma, emergency, surgical and obstetric care.”
To further compound the problem to access, SageWest Health Care has the highest costs in the state. A national study of nearly 1,600 facilities was conducted and found that Wyoming, overall, had the second highest disparity between what hospitals billed private insurance versus the rate at which those services are paid to Medicare. (Using that standard should give at least some idea of the actual price of services, and allows for comparisons of billed costs). Statewide, Wyoming private plans were charged around 3 times more than Medicare. But, here’s the important part: “SageWest Health Care in Fremont County had the highest relative price in the state, more than eight times what the facility was paid by Medicare.”
Now – for the good news! Riverton responded to these multitude of issues. A committee was formed that has done yeoman’s work, and is working to start a new hospital in Riverton! This blows open possibilities for our community. It would be designed and ready to increase treatment capacity for COVID-19, and any other pandemics (since we realized a need with the unexpected coronavirus outbreak). This would improve the response and abilities for an entire area, including the Wind River Indian Reservation. Our tribal populations have been severely affected by the lack of hospital services in Riverton. Further, a new hospital would restore hospital services that have been taken away from our community. Finally, it would allow for much needed competition and responsiveness to the market.
Now, more than ever, we realize the critical importance of an accessible, reasonably priced, quality hospital located in Riverton, WY. We, as a community, need to support the efforts to build a new hospital in Riverton.