Gunnison Valley Health looks to expand labor pool and housing

New CEO gives first update to county commissioners

[  By Katherine Nettles  ]

Gunnison Valley Health hospital is looking to tackle COVID vaccination, labor shortages, housing challenges, lost revenue and issues of limited healthcare within the valley in the coming year and beyond, and the new CEO Jason Amrich has officially taken the reins from now retired CEO Rob Santilli after a brief period of overlap between the two this fall. Amrich introduced himself to Gunnison County commissioners last month and gave an update on operations and other happenings at GVH.

“I am really excited to be a part of the county and be a part of GVH,” said Amrich. He said his main goals are to pursue further vaccination among staff, update the system’s electronic health records and expand its labor pool and affordable housing options to address staff shortages in the coming year. For the long term, an upcoming strategic plan will inform what new or expanding healthcare services would be most helpful to the valley. 

 

COVID

Operationally, Amrich said the GVH system’s continued journey toward staff COVID vaccination is going well. “I am proud to say that GVH is 94 percent fully vaccinated as an organization,” he said. “We continue to follow our state and federal guideline regulations on the vaccination status.”

Amrich said in the meantime, GVH is encouraging any staff members not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated or to submit documentation regarding their personal or religious beliefs. “We want to be respectful of people’s individual preferences, but we also need to protect our patients and other staff members,” he said.

“With all things COVID, our senior care center is really important,” continued Amrich. He said the senior center has implemented visitor policies, with staff testing currently at two times per week for anyone going to the senior center. He said that rate fluctuates based on case rates within the county.

Adding/expanding services

Amrich said the hospital system would run a community health needs assessment in 2022 to be used as a guiding document and get redone every three years. “One of the questions we’re adding this year is, ‘where are you seeking care outside of the valley and why’ so we can truly understand the possible imperatives for us as well as what is that specialty care…what other specialties would we have to add or partner with,” he said, to better support residents.

Amrich said there is a push to get all health records into the right type of electronic system across all campuses. “We are looking at how to select the right EMR (Electronic Medical Records)…Our goal is to have a budget and implement EMR by 2023,” he said.

GVH is also working on a behavioral health Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Gunnison Watershed School District, GVH and the county. “We are responding to some unfortunate tragedies that have occurred in the past month,” said Amrich.

Profitability

“What we’re seeing, what I’m seeing in the whole health industry is that COVID seemed to have a permanent dip in our revenue growth,” said Amrich.  “So, if you were to take 2018 to 2019 and say we’re looking at that non-COVID, we probably had another $5 million in net income/revenue then. But what hasn’t declined is expenses.”

What is driving some expenses is keeping up with increasing living costs and a labor shortage that drives up wage pressures, as well as paying travel nurses higher wages to fill positions temporarily and losing the sunken training costs during each turnover. He said a lot of nurses are looking at travel positions. “The labor pool is also shrinking,” he added. 

Amrich said GVH is also currently looking for a pediatrician and an emergency physician. He said the housing challenge is affecting all different types of positions, not just those that pay the least or the most. “So, for me as the new CEO, it is concerning to see a fairly large change in total profit margin,” he said. Amrich said in 2022, “We are budgeting an additional $700,000 for recruitment.”

Commissioner Liz Smith asked more about housing availability and what strategies the hospital has planned to work on that aspect. 

“Having just had an emergency room physician decline an offer because of housing…the housing issue obviously is affecting folks,” responded Amrich.  

He said a master lease strategy will also be considered across the different parcels that are being developed, and said he would be keeping a close eye on what projects come up and how quickly the units can come online.

He said expanding GVH’s labor pool would also help, especially if they could provide housing for someone coming from Montrose who needs somewhere to stay for a 14-hour shift, etc. “That is all in the 2022 budget,” he said. “This would be particularly helpful for entry level workers, if GVH can offer a more competitive rate to those workers and incentivize the commute for a few days per week.”

Commissioner Roland Mason said that recruitment from farther distances ties into the need for major investment in transit. “We’re getting huge pressure just to increase transportation,” he said of the needs across the county and between Gunnison and other areas such as Montrose and Grand Junction. 

Smith commended GVH’s efforts to expand and improve. “This is such a critical piece of our community, and it impacts us in so many ways—healthcare is really important,” said Smith.

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