Fallon County voters will be sent mail-in ballots this week for an election to be held on May 5, 2015.
By David Espeland, CEO Fallon Medical Complex
The sole purpose of this election is to determine whether the Fallon Medical Complex (FMC) Health Facility Levy should be continued for another two years. This levy is not a new tax. It is simply a continuation of the ten mills that have been continually renewed by voters for the past 12 years.
This levy was started in 2003 to provide assistance with keeping FMC’s buildings in good operating condition. The levy’s funds have been, and will continue to be, strictly dedicated to this purpose. None of the money is used to pay wages, purchase supplies, pay utility bills, or cover overhead expenses.
Fallon Medical Complex is operated by a non-profit charitable organization through a management agreement with Fallon County, which retains ownership of all assets. FMC is expected to operate substantially on its own. However, providing healthcare to a small rural county does not return any profits after paying for its day-to-day operations.
Larger facilities with more robust margins can “fund” improvements by tucking away excess profits each year. When an asset reaches the end of its useful life, the facility has the money to make the necessary upgrades. Small facilities such as FMC do not enjoy such a luxury. We have not been, and perhaps never will be, able to sock away money for future facility improvements.
The mill levy funds fill that void, so that we can make the necessary upgrades and improvements to the county’s healthcare assets. Prior to 2003, FMC had a difficult time keeping the facility in good repair. We found ourselves putting off much needed repairs and upgrades because we couldn’t afford to take out a loan.
But since we have been receiving mill levy funds, we have been making great strides at improving Fallon Medical Complex. Virtually every department has been a beneficiary of the mill levy funds, either through facility-wide infrastructure upgrades or department-specific improvements. Since the last renewal of the mill levy in 2013, it has been used for a number of smaller projects. It has also been used to provide preparation for a larger project that is just now starting.
For example, following the significant rains we experienced during the spring and summer of 2013, we were forced to replace a number of underground drain lines as well as improve surface drainage away from our buildings. This required tearing into existing landscaping, sidewalks and paving that all had to be restored. Although the planting and irrigation still has to be completed, we spent mill levy money to make the necessary repairs, install topsoil, patch asphalt paving, and replace concrete sidewalks after the drainage work was completed.
In addition, we made a number of improvements to hospital mechanical systems during the past two years. This involved the upgrading of our hospital humidification system to use steam injection instead of hot water. We also upgraded our medical air system to address a long-standing leak that rapidly drained our medical air cylinders when they were in use. This upgrade required the replacement of a service manifold and other equipment improvements to bring the system up to code.
Furthermore, mill levy funds were used to install a fire alarm audio interface, allowing emergency personnel to make announcements directly over the fire alarm system instead of the overhead paging system. Since not all areas of the facility are wired for paging, occupants were not always aware of the status of a fire alarm. The funds were additionally used to conduct a power quality analysis to determine why we are experiencing erratic performance of medical and computing equipment during switchovers from MDU power to backup generator power.
During the past few months, we have been using the mill levy funds to prepare for a significant project currently beginning in the basement of the long term care wing of our building complex. The mill levy funded extensive architectural and engineering work, including inspections, design development, and bid document preparation. In order to address a concern about leaking sewer lines, we hired a company from Lewistown to scope the underground lines to determine their current condition and location.
Equally important, we worked with a certified contractor to conduct an asbestos inspection of all areas that will be affected by the project. That inspection yielded concerns about asbestos in some of the basement “popcorn” ceilings as well as the insulation surrounding some of the heating pipes. Subsequent to the study, the contractor was hired to safely remove the asbestos and complete an air quality study as required by law.
Planning ahead, if the mill levy passes for another two years, we will use the funds to remove and replace the damaged and heaving floors under the long term care wing. The project will include replacing the concrete floor, relocating the laundry, housekeeping, and maintenance departments, and creating various storage rooms from the vacated space. In order to address a leaking sewer line under the building, the project includes the horizontal boring of a new pipe from the north parking lot into the basement hallway.
An equally important part of the project is to keep water out of the basement in the future. This will require quite a bit of outside site work. A new basement stairwell will need to be installed, as well as extensive trench drains that are designed to carry water away from the building and into the street. This will require the replacement of paved surfaces, including sidewalks and parking areas.
All in all, most small rural non-profit healthcare facilities cannot operate without some form of subsidy. Most will squeak by year-to-year operationally, but they are forced to defer much-needed maintenance and improvements indefinitely. Without incremental care being given to a facility, it will eventually fall into total disrepair and it will need a greater infusion of money to keep it functional. Mill levy money provides the needed funds for this incremental care.
It is my hope that Fallon County voters will see the tremendous value of the mill levy to the ongoing operating condition of our community’s healthcare facility. FMC employees simply want to be good stewards of the assets entrusted to them by the county and to provide the best possible care to our patients and residents. It is my hope that our voters will see that the Health Facility Levy funds are an essential means towards the success of that mission and that they will vote in favor of the levy for another two years.