SLAYTON - For the past 16 months, there has been major upheaval and a lot of changes at Murray County Medical Center and in the community of Slayton. Numerous residents have attended recent MCMC board meetings and voiced concerns over how the hospital is being run. Since the beginning of 2013, four providers and numerous other medical staff have left, two trustees have left the hospital board, CEO Mel Snow resigned and was replaced, and a lawsuit has been filed by former PA Dan Woldt against MCMC and Snow.
The people who left MCMC were more than just medical providers, according to Slayton resident Mike Stelter.
"They're neighbors, friends... these are people that are big supporters of the community, big supporters of the school, of different community organizations, they run different organizations. They are highly respected individuals in town that have been basically forced to resign because of the working atmosphere. And we need to get those people back."
Photo by Anna Haecherl-Smith
The outside of the Murray County Medical Center in Slayton received an upgrade recently as part of a major remodeling process; it’s what has gone on inside with hospital personnel that has raised eyebrows — and the concern of many community members.
Stelter was also concerned about retaining patients at the hospital because of the providers who have left.
"The customer pool we've got left is not going to grow because we are limited to the amount of people we have in this community," Stelter said. "We can recruit as many doctors and PAs as we want, but the majority of those people will not come back to Slayton until their provider is brought back to this facility."
Some people believe the way to get those providers and staff back is to switch hospital management companies by cutting ties with Sanford. A statement brought to the board by former Slayton Mayor Cal Wurpts representing several hundred Murray County citizens suggests that the board "sever the current management agreement with Sanford and negotiate a new management agreement with Avera." The statement also mentions that the four providers who left MCMC are now working for Avera and suggests that "an agreement with Avera will make it possible for these providers to return to MCMC, at least on a part-time basis."
Kent Johansen, also a Slayton resident, believes that "all the energy needs to go towards returning financial stability and trust. The stability will come from working to return the providers and staff that have left. This will only be possible with the realignment of the hospital leadership and the board." Johansen went on to promote the importance of bringing back former medical staff.
"Whatever options are finalized with the management agreement need to include the ability to get back those local providers and staff," Johansen said.
Meanwhile, the community is left to deal the added burden of not knowing what the future holds.
"I have a child with complex medical needs," said Trish Grieme, a Slayton resident who has depended on MCMC for care of her daughter. "We need providers that we can trust, that are comfortable with her. We lost our good providers. My biggest goal is to get back a safe working environment, a safe place to take patients and get our community back."
"Our businesses are suffering," Grieme added. "If you are driving to see those providers who left, you might buy groceries or do your shopping out of town."
Now, the hospital board and community is looking to new interim CEO John Osse for guidance and leadership. Osse, who started just three weeks ago, was essentially thrown into the fire with all the recent turmoil at the hospital.
"You know, people say that, but actually, I walk into the fire," Osse said. "As an interim CEO I am frequently asked to come in and assess the situation and make recommendations to the board, and that's what I'm doing."
Osse has established an open-door policy and has already met and talked with many staff and community members.
"What I've heard so far is several things. One, is from the staff. They are looking for leadership," Osse said. "So far the responses I've gotten towards me have been positive. There are still some issues we have to address. I'm still in the assessment phase of my stay here. But the response I've been getting from staff so far is positive."
"I still have a lot of people to talk to," Osse added.
Six staff meetings will take place in the near future so Osse can gather input from staff, but he also is holding individual meetings.
"I make myself available; I move around the facility," Osse said. "But a lot of staff want to talk individually. So I'm getting a lot requests for that, which I encourage them to do."
When asked if Sanford was the problem, Osse said he didn't see a breach of contract that would allow them to sever ties with Sanford. "It is an issue," Osse said. "There are people in this community who want to bring those people back and it's a legitimate concern. Their perspective is that the hospital would prosper if that (management) were to change. I'm not going to diminish their concern."
Avera could be an option at an open strategy meeting at 7 a.m. Wednesday at the Murray County Government Center.
When asked if the board was willing to look at the possibility of Avera, MCMC Board Chairman Robert Moline said, "I can't say that today. I think that our board needs to meet and talk about it and that's what we are going to do on April 30. This board has never sat down and talked as a full board of what they want. So it's presumptuous for me to say what the board wants until we talk."
Osse appeared ready to take the next step to get the hospital back on track.
"During this transition I've gotten some directives from the board, which included exit interviews, patient surveys, some planning, so those have been my goals and objectives," he said. "And recruiting. We can't wait and see. The message I want to get out to the community is that while all this is going on we are continuing to move forward."
"It's our goal to keep this hospital prosperous, to get the community healed, and get back to doing business," said Moline. "Patients are number one."