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Pagosa Springs Medical Center expands facility, services

Their life is what most people value the most. The will to live, discussed in depth in the works of philosophers like Schopenhauer and Hegel, is one the major directional forces in an individual’s life; some would argue that it is so strong and all-encompassing, that it is the one deciding will in all individuals’ lives. It is that on which all decisions, movements are based.

Health care, the upkeep of the body, of the physical form of the self, plays a large part in this will. Health care, after all, keeps the living alive.

Brad Cochennet, CEO of Pagosa Springs Medical Center (PSMC), understands that there is little that is of more value to people than their own lives. To convince people, though, of the common sense of health care, is not so easy.

“To be healthy, you eat right, eat less and exercise,” Cochennet explained. It’s common sense that eating bags of French fries and smoking several packs of cigarettes a day is not healthy, but convincing and teaching people to implement healthy lifestyle habits is a difficult task.

This is where the Wellness Center at the Pagosa Springs Medical Center enters the picture. Affiliated with the Mayo Clinic, the Wellness Center offers memberships and programs to keep people on task for healthy living.

Cochennet repeated the old adage: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

However, if that covered all health care, the Wellness Center would be the end of the growth for the PSMC.

People get sick. Emergencies happen. People are in need of medical care at times, even those who practice the healthiest of lifestyles.

The PSMC, formerly the Pagosa Mountain Hospital, has been growing. There is an emergency room. The PSMC now has the Wellness Center, and provides preventative medicine. In January, the hospital began to offer colonoscopies, in April cataract surgery, and in August, a new general surgeon, Dr. David Shaeffer, will begin performing common surgical procedures (gallbladder removal, appendectomy, hernia, etc.).

The clinic has opened an urgent care facility on Saturdays. Specialists have been brought into the clinic and hospital, such as gastroenterologist Dr. Rick Zak, who has an agreement to come to the facility three days every six weeks.

Cochennet says that one of the hardest parts of running a health care facility is addressing all of the community’s needs. Some people, he says, have very high expectations for health care, while others want a simple clinic whose services they can afford if they don’t have insurance. It’s a wide spectrum of need and reaching a middle ground will be an ongoing struggle at the medical center.

Adding facilities and expanding staff personnel is one way of addressing a portion of the community’s desires. This growth, though, is not cheap.

“People don’t complain when they think they are dying,” Cochennet said. However, when they find out they are going to live, that they are going to be all right, then look at the bill ... that’s when people have a problem.

The average ambulance ride is $1,600. On the sliding scale, a visit to the clinic is $40.

A healthy life is not cheap. It’s not cheap for the patients, and it’s not cheap for the facility. The total operating expenses at PSMC for the month of April was $860,831.

Cochennet sees opportunity for growth, to become a better clinic, a wider-serving clinic. “This could be whatever it wants to be,” he said, making mention of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Not that PSMC will become the Mayo Clinic, he clarified, but the town, the populations are not so different.

A question rises as to how all this growth can be afforded when the tax base for the hospital district is decreasing by 5 percent.

Some of the ways, Cochennet explained, are leasing equipment, fund-raising, grant writing, and the revenue received from patients.

While it seems like an anomaly that the hospital grows in a time of economic downturn, Cochennet said it’s because the PSMC is simply filling a hole.

“This area has been wanting a hospital for 25 years,” he said. Since the area, thus, had been underserved by health care facilities for so long, when the facility and services are present, people will come.

Cochennet explained it by imagining a Pagosa Springs without restaurants. Everyone travels to Durango or Farmington to eat. A restaurant in town opens up. What happens? People start eating at that restaurant.

The numbers are up on ER visits, ultrasounds and MRIs. Since January, Dr. Zak has complete 96 colonoscopies and has 143 people lined up. The hospital, said Cochennet, is filling a market need.

The one area in which numbers are not up, is CT scans. Cochennet is advising that the PSMC lease a new CT scanner because its current four-slice scanner is out of date. Originally opting to lease a 64-slice image scanner for $760,000, Cochennet says that he has now been approached by companies to lease a 128-slice image scanner, which Mercy Medical Center in Durango does not have, for the same price.

The reason, he said, can take the form of company advertising. By this theory, it would appear even hospitals want to keep up with the Joneses.

The lease of the new 128-slice CT scanner was presented before the hospital board at this month’s meeting on June 27. Read about that meeting in an article in this week’s SUN.

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