ELKO – The Elko County Board of Health will compose a letter requesting the corporation that owns Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital evaluate its pricing structure.
Board members said they would like to encourage LifePoint Health, headquartered in Tennessee, to be competitive with the surrounding markets.
“I don’t want to be negative and cast any aspersions, but I’ve heard a number of complaints about the hospital. Primarily, that what we need is more competition, that the prices are way too high,” said Commissioner Demar Dahl, explaining he has had personal experience with the hospital’s prices.
He said he was at NNRH and two days later he was in western Nevada where he suffered from a relapse and was hospitalized again.
“The cost here compared to there, for relatively the same things, were say different, as much as four times different,” said Dahl, possibly attributing that difference to competition.
CEO of NNRH Rick Palagi said this is not the first time he has heard this complaint and the comments do not “fall on deaf ears.”
He praised the diverse marvel of competition, but said “it is not marvelous, in my opinion, in a rural community like ours or any other rural community, because we only have so much volume and it can only get spread in so many ways before that begins to have a detrimental impact” on areas such as 24-hour access.
Dahl said he could see that point of view if NNRH wasn’t a member of a health care system.
Palagi said he views the hospital as doing everything it can to be a community health partner; that’s his mission.
“Always my soapbox … anytime any of you hear a complaint or problem if you can just find out if I can speak to them, I’m willing to do that because we don’t know unless were told that we might have screwed up … if we don’t know about it, we can’t fix it,” he said.
Commissioner Cliff Eklund also said he has done comparison pricing in his family between Elko and Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, noticing dramatic differences.
“People have the opinion that you guys are here, in a rural area, and you can charge whatever you want,” said Eklund, stating the local hospital is in competition with those in larger surrounding cities such as Twin Falls, Salt Lake City and Reno.
“I am listening. We’ll take it back,” said Palagi, thanking Eklund for his transparency.
Even though he discussed the public feeling it is being taken advantage of, Eklund did commend NNRH’s staff and quality of care.
Commissioner Delmo Andreozzi, who serves on the Governing Board for NNRH, discussed how pricing is a continuous conversation.
“I think the things that the local administration has been able to fix and amend, like we were talking about this billing, patient satisfaction and some of those other things that are managed here locally, we see a little bit more success,” he said.
Sending a message encompassing the issue of pricing and its competitive comparison to other markets is of the utmost importance to Andreozzi. If the local hospital is not competitive, the local health care infrastructure begins to be undermined and staff, such as physicians and nurses, is lost to the community, he said.
Another area of destabilization includes local employers who provide vouchers to seek medical treatment outside of Elko.
This can also create an economic impact, said Sheriff Jim Pitts, as the employee must take time from work and there isn’t always a replacement.
Dahl said he would like to be consulted during the creation of the letter.
It was unanimously voted upon for Andreozzi and Commissioner Rex Steninger to write the letter and bring it to the next meeting on Oct. 4 to be possibly be signed by the seven-member board, which meets quarterly.
During public comment Rebecca Byrns said there is a broader financial cost to the public and business community when people go out of town for medical care, including going on a larger shopping trip. This takes money away from the local community.
Gerald Ackerman of the University of Nevada School of Medicine proposed addressing the letter so it is focused toward public access and safety, because there are safety concerns when traveling.