Hospital board

The four people seeking the three positions on the Memorial Health System Board of Directors on the Nov. 5 ballot discussed their views on the hospital at a public forum Tuesday sponsored by the Abilene Area Chamber of Commerce. They are, from left, Dr. Dennis Biggs, Millie Fink, John Hultgren and Dr. Steven Schwarting.

There were few disagreements from the four candidates seeking the three positions on the Board of Directors of Memorial Health System.

All four gave the hospital two thumbs up and all four agreed that health care should be a right and not a privilege at a public forum sponsored by the Abilene Area Chamber of Commerce Tuesday at the Visitors Center of the Eisenhower Presidential Library.

Retired Drs. Dennis Biggs and Steve Schwarting and Millie Fink are seeking reelection. John Hultgren is also running for the board.

Right/privilege

All four felt that medial care was a right and not a privilege.

“Throughout the decades I was in practice, in medical school and even before, I always felt that health care was something that everybody should expect,” Schwarting said. “When I compare it to advanced societies around the world, I see that our health care system costs at least twice as much than any of the European counties. The survival rate in the United States is lower. The incidents of infant mortality is higher than those countries. And it costs so much in our country. I think as hospital and health care providers, we are stuck at the mercy of insurance companies and large drug companies and large hospital systems that have a huge amount of influence in Congress. The rules get passed and come down to us and we have to live by them. And we do a good job of living by them but I think it could be a whole lot different if we accepted that people have this right to care.”

Biggs agreed health care was a right that everyone should have.

“The problem that I see and that the United States and also locally that we are going to have to face is, we can’t afford everything we can do,” he said. “I don’t want to be the one to ration that care and say, ‘You get an MRI, but you don’t.’ But somewhere along the line there is going to have to be some common sense rationing, if you will, so that the end of life care is not so terribly, terribly expensive. Those are tough ethical problems. I am not going to be here to solve them. I think it is going to be a tough problem that we all are going to have to face.”

Fink said that health care is a privilege now for those that have health insurance.

“I have really good insurance and I feel very privileged that we are able to pay for it,” she said. “In my own family, I have seen people die from lack of medical care because they did not have insurance. Working in social services for 25 years, I saw the same thing over and over. If you don’t have a medical card, if you don’t have insurance and you don’t have a way to pay for it, you’re going to die. That’s a terrible, terrible way to do business when we have so much expertise in the health care business. I absolutely believe it should be a right and not a privilege.”

Hultgren agreed.

“It is a right that we have good, adequate health care for everyone,” he said. “Again, like Dr. Biggs said, it is going to be difficult in figuring out rationing, and who gets what. There are some things to work through. Again, it is something that needs to be done. The cost of insurance, the cost of medications and pharmaceuticals is out of control and puts it out of reach for a lot of people. A lot of people suffer as a result of that. We have to come up with a way to be able to make it affordable for everyone.”

Issues

Addressing issues on the board, Fink said she would like to see a solution to the Learn & Grow Day Care center problem announcing it will only be accepting hospital employee children next year.

“If I had a solution to that, I guarantee we would have had that taken care of,” she said. “I know that affects families, more than just children. It affects their families and grandparents on down the line. How we are going to fix that I can’t really say. I don’t know if it is going to take more money. I know it is going to take trained help. Right now, that is one of my primary concerns.”

Holtgen said the hospital does a good job.

“I would like to see that continue and to expand upon is the aspect of community health and ways to improve the community’s health as a whole, whether that be reaching out to various partners to partner with the hospital or have a hand in the health in the community,” he said. “Strengthening health care as a whole for the people that Memorial Health assists and provides care for. I think that is how health care is going as we see it moving more away from the acute.”

Schwarting said the issue he continues to work hard with administrative staff on is to get the hospital consistently in the black.

“There are a tremendous number of factors; it’s so complicated how reimbursement comes. The rules and regulations, the programs this year, how it’s changed next year. We have been really close this year of being in the black but had a program that we thought was going to generate a significant amount of income for us that fell apart,” he said. “I think we are headed in the right direction.

“We do add services as we feel the need in the community and as we can afford it,” he added.

Biggs said he was also concerned about child care.

“The biggest problem we have is not so much money, but getting qualified staff,” he said. “That has to do with the state of Kansas has rules that you have to have a trained teacher with a year’s worth of experience. For example, I was talking to my wife (Sheila who is a nurse) with all her child care qualifications, she would not qualify to be a lead person in one of the rooms. There has to be a lead person in every room. That is the biggest problem the hospital has in keeping that day care open, functioning and viable.

“We haven’t solved jumping through the hoops of the Kansas rules and regulations as far as who can be a team leader,” he said.

All four said the hospital does an excellent job with the care of patients.

Why running

Biggs said he ran after he retired and “wanted to give back something to the community.”

“I figure hospitals and doctors were something I knew about and could possibly help with the board. I have enjoyed my four years on the board and look forward to serving another four years,” he said.

Fink said she likes to keep women on the board.

“At one time I was the only woman on the board and I was very, very glad when another one come on the board just to represent the women’s interest,” she said. “I also like to keep someone from the Chapman area and the rural area on the board.”

“I do believe in this hospital. I want it to stay open and to be financially stable.”

Hultgren also said his interest in getting on the board was giving back to the community.

“I spent eight years on the (Chapman) school board and got off several years ago,” he said. “I have been in health care for 35 years and again I felt like it was something I knew something about.

“As most of you know health care in rural areas is really a difficult thing to maintain. I think we have a good facility and I want to do whatever I can to maintain that.”

Schwarting said he has been on the board off and on for 20 years.

“I continue to serve on the board because I believe in the hospital. I believe in the facility that it is. It’s really a solid critical access hospital.”

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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