ELKO — Concerns over hospital prices and management practices will be expressed in a second county letter to LifePoint Health leadership regarding Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital.
LifePoint is the Tennessee-based corporation that owns the hospital, and the letter that Elko County commissioners unanimously approved drafting at their Feb. 7 meeting will be the second such letter sent in a little over a year addressing complaints and concerns from residents and providers about NNRH.
A survey of health care providers conducted by the University of Nevada, Reno, at the request of the commission prompted the follow-up letter. Gerald Ackerman, UNR School of Medicine assistant dean, presented survey findings to the board at its regular meeting.
Of primary concern to the commissioners were results showing that physicians cited dissatisfaction with LifePoint’s management of the hospital and the hospital’s high prices. About 48 percent of respondents said that the hospital’s management by LifePoint was the worst thing about practicing medicine in Elko. About 22 percent said the worst thing about practicing in Elko was high prices at NNRH.
The physicians surveyed said that policymakers’ best approaches to improving practicing medicine in Elko County would be to create competition for NNRH and lower prices at the hospital.
“It looks like we have some work to do as both policymakers and providers in the community,” Ackerman said.
Delmo Andreozzi, chairman of the county commission, said the survey was not aimed at finding fault with the hospital. He pointed out that none of the questions specifically asked about management or prices at NNRH, yet the results revealed issues.
“I think we have the impetus to write another letter to them,” said Andreozzi, who explained other methods to enact change would be to encourage competition or work on regulation.
Commissioner Rex Steninger asked what good the first letter did but received no answer to his question. The board unanimously passed a motion to draft a follow-up letter to LifePoint. Commissioner Cliff Eklund was absent.
LifePoint could not be reached immediately for comment, and NNRH stated in an email that it was unable to comment directly at this time.
“All of us who work at NNRH remain firmly committed to making our community healthier,” the email stated. “We love northeastern Nevada, and it is our privilege to provide our neighbors and fellow community members with high quality healthcare whenever they need it.”
The first letter from the Elko County Health Board, dated Jan. 4, 2017, states that prices at NNRH are driving employers to encourage patients to seek out of town care.
“The local hospital is having an extremely negative impact on our local economy and the safety, health and welfare of our citizens,” the first letter states.
UNR’s Elko Physician Satisfaction Survey was distributed to 59 physicians, and there were 23 respondents. Nurse practitioners and physicians assistants also participated in a separate group with 11 respondents.
Additional concerns discovered in the survey included the ability of policymakers and health care providers to attract and retain primary care practitioners.
“This is a national issue,” said Ackerman, who explained that rural areas are struggling to recruit providers. “It’s more complex in the West. We have a harder time competing with East Coast and urban areas.”
Ackerman advised the commissioners to recognize that the survey also unveiled positive information.
Some physician respondents expressed approval of their place of employment, with 39 percent “very satisfied” and 30 percent “somewhat satisfied.” Fifty-seven percent also said that the best thing about primary care practice in Elko County was a great population of colleagues and patients. PAs and nurse practitioners echoed those sentiments in their responses.
“The people that are here in this community are second to none from top to bottom,” Ackerman said.