(Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories on local health care issues)
Have you noticed all the dirt being pushed around on the south side of Blanding? It is just the beginnings of a new San Juan County Combined Health Services Building, a building that will house not only the San Juan Clinic in Blanding, but will be the home for San Juan Public Health and San Juan Counseling as well.
“It’s a huge thing for us,” explained San Juan Health Service District CEO Clayton Holt, in a recent sit-down with the San Juan Record.
“It’s an opportunity to partner with the San Juan Public Health and San Juan Counseling to work [collectively] to put together a building,” Holt continued. “It saves on overhead. Rather than have three entities in three separate buildings, we’ll have them all on the same site.”
Holt is looking forward to the new location. He noted that people new to Blanding probably don’t even know San Juan Health Services operates a clinic in the Four Corners Regional Care Center.
It’s all part of a three-part effort to provide “what’s best for the patient.” Holt and San Juan Health Services are tirelessly working to employ great people, while providing first class facilities and an outstanding environment for health care in San Juan County.
It starts first with the providers.
“It’s important to recruit good providers and to have a place for them to practice,” maintains Holt. “We can say to providers, ‘come here and practice in Monticello and in a new clinic in Blanding.’ Both are places where you would want to stay as a doctor.”
Indeed, those things are attractive. And a local connection doesn’t hurt either. Recent additions, Dr. Zeb Crofts and Dr. Michael Nielson, both grew up in Blanding and returned to practice in San Juan County.
“Local people already know what life is like in San Juan County and know they will like to live here,” says Holt. “You want providers who want to stay here.”
Additionally, quality of life is also the pitch they make to those who weren’t raised here but would want to practice here.
Holt stated, “Quality of life is important for spouses and family, too. In the end, what do you want in life? They have this ideal in mind. We want to know what their vision is of practice, family, and quality of life and try to meet that. Compensation is secondary to those issues.”
Back to those facilities. Both Holt and Farley Crofts, Business Services Manager, are excited about the new clinical building in Blanding.
“We’re not expanding the scope of services we provide in Blanding,” says Holt. “We are changing the venue.”
The newly designed building has three wings, one for each entity. “It’s much better,” says Crofts, “in layout, patient privacy, flow, location than where we are now.”
Plans are for the building to be completed within 12-14 months. “You’ll see a flurry of activity in the next 60 days,” says Holt, as they try to get at least the concrete work done before snow flies.
Tri-Hurst is the general contractor, with many local companies working as sub-contractors.
Finally, San Juan Health Services hope to improve on an already outstanding environment for health care in San Juan County.
Facilities and providers go a big distance in this endeavor, but collaboration is also critical. Holt says San Juan Health Services always looks to see what other services to provide, such as specialties.
Currently, a cardiologist from the University of Utah and an OB-GYN come once a month to provide their services. Crofts is also enthusiastic about “Telemedicine,” medicine over the internet.
This involves big screens in patient rooms that can be connected to specialists in Salt Lake City or other large cities, providing services without leaving the county. “You have to have a certain number of patients to make it work,” admits Holt.
One huge opportunity is the fact that San Juan County has two hospitals, San Juan Hospital in Monticello and Blue Mountain Hospital in Blanding, along with Utah Navajo Health System (UNHS).
San Juan Health Services is working with UNHS and Blue Mountain Hospital to improve health care in the county. The two entities meet regularly to keep open lines of communication and action.
Currently, they are working together on a community health assessment that is required of both hospitals as critical access hospitals.
“Then, we want to come together and see how we can improve health care in the county,” said Holt.
The entities are also working on sharing staff, specialties, and equipment from time to time as well.
“If they have the MRI van in town and we don’t,” explains Crofts, “we will send patients down there. And when their lab was down for a couple of weeks, they sent their work up here to our lab. We might share instruments needed in surgery, too.”
“Its cost effective,” adds Holt. “What can we do to work together to capture health care dollars that are here rather than leave the county? It’s significant economically.
“If we can take care of those things here, we can employ that many more people and not have [patients] leave town for services. There is still an element of competition there, but at the same time, we can work together with UNHS and Blue Mountain Hospital to create the best rural health care system anywhere.
“Our stated goal is that the citizens of this county have access to the best health care of any comparable rural location in the country. Collaboration is the way to accomplish that. We’ll always be looking for the right opportunities to provide services that are cost effective.”
Both Holt, who has been the CEO for 18 months and Crofts, on board for about a year, are glad to be where they are.
“We love it here,” says Holt. “The staff is wonderful to work with. They are friendly; they care tremendously about the patients. It is easy to work here, fun and meaningful.
“Patients are very appreciative. They love the care they get. That part is wonderful. Even though it’s a hospital, it’s still a happy place to work. Being small has its advantages because you work so closely together. You have personal relationships with all the employees.”