Posted 9/25/13 (Wed)
By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer
A long season of lost providers and financial struggle may be nearing an end for McKenzie County Healthcare Systems (MCHS). After going from a staff of four providers to only one, the McKenzie County Clinic is looking to grow from a staff of one provider and locum fill-ins, to having six full-time, permanent providers.
“We are really fortunate in that the challenges we are currently facing are not the same challenges we faced a year ago,” states Tucker Petersen, MCHS Chief Operating Officer.
Last year, according to Petersen, the MCHS clinic had two providers who were on extended leaves of absence, and one provider who had left to be closer to his family.
“It took us from a staff of four to one and we had to supplement that loss with locum providers at a huge cost to the organization,” states Petersen.
Petersen states that using locum providers is more expensive due to the fact that travel costs are included in their payment. But the healthcare system chose to supplement their providers rather than scale back the services they could provide.
Additionally, locum providers are not ideal because they are temporary, and therefore, do not develop a history with the patients they see.
Currently, the tables have turned for MCHS. They have hired two nurse practitioners, one of which began seeing patients last week, and the other who will arrive at the end of the week.
Kirsten Vetterkind, a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) from Wausau, Wisc., is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, and made the decision to move to Watford City and join the clinic staff to be closer to her husband.
“He has been working in the oilfield here for over a year, while I finished my degree,” states Vetterkind. “He wanted to stay working in the oilfield. Rather than continuing the routine of having my husband work for two weeks on and two weeks off from a distance, I decided to come and get a job out here.”
Vetterkind states she has always wanted to move out west and feels a strong pull toward family practice medicine and rural medicine.
Bart Hunter, FNP, will soon join Vetterkind at the MCHS clinic from Texas. He will move with his wife and five-month-old daughter. He is a graduate of Utah State University, and along with being a Family Nurse Practitioner, he is also a licensed chiropractor. He will begin seeing patients at the clinic on Oct. 1.
“The reason we went with two Nurse Practitioners is that in North Dakota they are allowed to practice independent of a doctor,” states Petersen.
Petersen states that the clinic also intends to add three more physicians to their medical staff and is presently in contract negotiations to do so.
“We are now in the position of going from a staff of 1½ full-time equivalents to 6½ full-time equivalents,” states Petersen. “We will have more medical staff than we did before.”
While not paying for locum providers and having permanent staff to treat area residents has solved one problem, it has highlighted another - where to put all the incoming providers.
“Our current clinic and hospital facilities are undersized and outdated,” states Petersen. “The hospital is 62 years old and the clinic is 24 years old. And they were both built for a population of 1,500.”
“The emergency room visits have gone from 115 a month a few years ago to 565 in August,” states Petersen. “This set of circumstances has been a major strain on our organization.”
According to Petersen, MCHS recognizes that if they are going to serve a projected population of 24,000 people, they will need to be proactive in expanding their facilities, as well as their services.
MCHS has plans to build a new hospital and clinic on the site of the MCHS’s Good Shepherd Nursing Home. The new facility will include an expanded clinic and emergency room.
In building an expanded facility, MCHS is looking into the possibility of expanding its services as well.
“We are considering both inpatient and outpatient surgery, including orthopedic surgery, obstetrics and gynecology,” states Petersen.
Petersen states that MCHS has partnered with the city of Watford City through the Roughrider Fund, and explored all state and federal resources to aid in the construction of the new hospital and clinic.
One major barrier to the expansion of services, hiring of staff, and general growth of the hospital system has been the area’s lack of affordable housing. But Petersen states MCHS is already being proactive in enacting a solution.
“To alleviate some of the pressure, and to help us recruit and retain highly-qualified and credentialed staff, we have purchased an apartment building, single-family homes, and plan to build a new apartment building this fiscal year,” states Petersen. “We anticipate a tight year financially as we are still seeing an increasing number of uninsured patients come through our emergency rooms. We remain committed to providing these emergency services regardless of an individual’s ability to pay. But the reality is that it puts pressure on the entire healthcare system.”