Humboldt General Awarded Certificate of Need for Construction

The Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health has issued a Certificate of Need for construction at Humboldt General Hospital.

The Certificate of Need is a requirement for any health facility construction over $2 million in rural Nevada communities.

The HGH certificate covers all five phases of the hospital’s construction, including two previous phases, its current construction, and two future phases.

As part of its approval, the state has requested an updated needs assessment for the facility; additionally, the hospital will need to supply quarterly project updates and financial statements.

HGH CEO/Administrator Jim Parrish received notice of the approval on August 17, just three weeks after a public hearing in Winnemucca where dozens of HGH staff members and supporters showed up in support of expanding local healthcare.

Laura Hale, the hearing officer with the state division, expressed surprise at the number attending the meeting. But supporters made it clear during the meeting’s public comment period that they felt they had no choice but to stand up for progress.

Hospital board chairman Mel Hummel said the hospital construction supports economic development for the community. “Now is not the time to stick our heads in the sand,” he said.

“As a businessman I know there is no such thing as standing still,” said Hummel. “You move forward or backward.”

HGH controller Eddy Davis said the hospital and the community are at a crossroads. “We can either stop and go back or move forward,” Davis said, calling the current efforts visionary rather than reactionary. “We work out the numbers and we’re conservative.”

HGH Clinic Manager Lonnie Hammargren spoke of having to send his grandmother out of the community for memory care. “I’ve been accused of bring prejudiced, and I am,” he said, noting that the hospital’s job is to continue to make a “contribution to the community.”

In addition to comments from other HGH staff members, community members Deaun Schertel and Vickie Rock provided emotional testimony regarding the need for memory care locally.

City Councilman Page Brooks spoke of a son surviving an accident because of the equipment and expertise available at the local hospital. She said her son’s injury did not allow him to be transported elsewhere for treatment and that if Humboldt General Hospital had not been equipped to save him, he would have died.

Additionally, other community members shared their support for memory care via letters, while local mom Chelsea Cabatbat wrote regarding the convenience of staying in her own community for prenatal care and delivery.

Newmont Mining Company’s Communications Director Rhonda Zuraff said in a letter that Newmont remains optimistic regarding mining and economic growth in northern Nevada.

Peter Wallish, Director of Rural Community Economic Development for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, wrote: “As the state’s lead agency for business expansion efforts, I can tell you that when a business is evaluating the feasibility of locating, or relocating operations to a rural community in Nevada, one of the main considerations for that business is access to healthcare services for its employees.”

The hospital presented a letter of support signed by State Senator Pete Goicoechea and State Assemblymen John Ellison and James Oscarson.

“As Nevada’s population rapidly ages, and more people are choosing the benefits of rural life, we need to support efforts to provide quality health care without the burden of traveling long distances,” the lawmakers stated.

Pershing General Hospital and Nursing Home CEO Patricia Bianchi also submitted a letter, noting the mutually beneficial relationship between PGH and HGH.

Additionally, Winnemucca Mayor Di An Putnam added her belief that “in order for the community to grow and prosper, our hospital needs to continue to expand and provide premier health care.”

Putnam said, “The planned expansion of our hospital will greatly improve not only the medical services available in our community but will play a vital role in helping to bring new industry and jobs to our area.”

Opposition to the Certificate of Need was led by two hospital board members—Marlene Brissenden and Richard Cook—who each submitted letters prior to the hearing.

Brissenden wrote, “A majority of this community have voiced their concerns about this current expansion, as well as phase one and two, approved by the hospital board in 2010.”

Brissenden said she voted against the proposed expansions. “Is there a need for this $40 million expansion of our local hospital? Humboldt County cannot justify it.”

Cook’s letter also stated he voted against continuing construction and remodeling. He said there has been a lack of public participation in the hospital planning process.

“In my opinion, if the public had had the opportunity to participate in this project and all of the facts had been presented, the Director (State Health) would never have issued a CON for such an ill-advised waste of taxpayer money,” Cook wrote.

Additionally, Cook criticized the decision to remodel/construct on the current hospital site, saying it would have been much less expensive to build a new 25-bed facility at a different location.

Brissenden and Cook were joined by Lewis Trout, another detractor, who said he was not opposed to portions of the construction and remodeling but felt a pause was needed to reassess the project in light of mining’s economic situation.

Additionally, in a letter submitted previous to the hearing, Trout said HGH administration had shown “a cavalier disregard of compliance issues” and “repeated statutory and regulatory violations.”

Trout wrote: “The HGH administrator has demonstrated a repeated pattern of inadequate planning and failure to obtain needed entitlements.”

Trout called for the state health department to condition the CON approval on an independent forensic audit and feasibility study of the hospital operation.

Hearing officer Laura Hale countered, saying Trout’s request was outside the scope of the CON requirement.

Humboldt General Hospital is currently in phase three of a seven-year construction plan that saw the addition of a two-story medical office building in 2010, followed by a completely remodeled Acute patient wing in 2013.

Now, crews are working on a new memory care unit that will attach to the hospital’s current long-term Skilled Nursing Facility, Harmony Manor. Expansions and remodels of the OB, OR and ER departments will follow.

The five-phase project will also include an underground parking garage and a second-floor medical office building dedicated to the needs of women and children.

Before the hospital began construction in 2010, officials were in regular contact with the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health to secure the necessary permits and licenses to move forward with the construction.

But it wasn’t until March of this year that HGH officials were notified that they would need a certificate of need for the entire five phases of construction.

Battle Mountain General Hospital received a similar notification; their public hearing for their newly completed clinic was on the same day as Winnemucca; their Certificate of Need has also been approved.