Thune Impressed with Wagner's Growth in Health Care

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Several community leaders gathered Wednesday for an opportunity to visit with U.S. Senator John Thune as he toured the new Veterans Administration Clinic, Indian Health Services (IHS) clinic and the Wagner Community Memorial Hospital – Avera.

Chief Executive Officer Bryan Slaba conducted a tour of the new addition which is under construction and the renovations they've made over the past two years. The new addition, with estimated cost of approximately $4 million, was aided from local support as $890,000 was received in private donations.

Following the tour Slaba invited community leaders to an opportunity to visit further with Senator Thune at a roundtable discussion.

"We cover an area of approximately 20 to 25 miles radius," Slaba stated. "We try and determine what our patients want and need, and then we go after it."

WCMH employs 63 full-time employees with a $4 million annual payroll.

Since the closing of IHS emergency room, the Wagner Community Memorial Hospital has seen their ER double in volume. But with growth, comes challenges as the hospital has seen their charitable care and bad debts triple in the past three years.

WCMH case load for funding relies on Medicare for 45%, Medicaid for 20% and IHS contracted services for another 10%.

WCMH received critical access designation in 2001 which "has been a great safety net to this institution," stated Slaba, "It's been a savior to this institution and helped guide us in a different direction, to where we are today."

Thune questioned Slaba about the challenges with attracting new physicians. "It is extremely difficult to attract new physicians as they want to be in Sioux Falls or Minneapolis," said Slaba. "We have begun looking at first year medical school students who are expressing interest in coming back to Wagner. We need to not only be able to attract the physician, we need to find things to attract the spouse too."

Mayor Sharon Haar stressed the importance of the outreach services at the VA Clinic where she is a volunteer. "Elderly veteran's do not want to travel the long distance, or fight the heavy traffic. Local care is very important to the older population," Haar said. "Veterans are moving back to smaller towns due to their income."

Mike Frei of Commercial State Bank noted that with the health care rates increasing, employees find themselves with higher deductible, higher co-pay and higher premiums and less cash in their pocket. "Are the working people going to continue to pay for the health care plan?"

Sen. Thune commented, "there is nothing in the bill to fix that."

Michele Juffer, administrator of the Wagner Good Samaritan Society noted the current mentality is, "someone else is going to pay my way so I don't have too!"

Thune provided an update on battles in Washington, D.C He noted that states such as South Dakota suffer as they continue to provide high quality care at lower cost as there is a perverse incentive when you reward the high cost with higher reimbursements. "There is a huge disparity between states for hospital stay costs per day," said Thune."We need to find a way to deliver care more cost effectively."

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