SARATOGA – For nearly a month the pressure has been building over whether the lease between Health Management Services (HMS) and the Saratoga Town Council would be altered or canceled.

No decision on the lease was made at the June 4th public Town Council meeting.

The Saratoga Clinic, operated by Karl Rude-owned HMS, remains open and receiving patients, as both parties agreed to continue talking while searching for a solution to HMS’s inability to meet all the terms of the current lease.

These decisions came after almost two hours of public comments by some 17 audience members and council members, a 45-minute executive session as well as an additional hour of council discussion with Rude regarding medical issues in Saratoga, the lack of a full-time doctor, and the operating hours of the Clinic, and finally, how the lease should be framed . These lengthy discussions bookended the regular bimonthly Council meeting pushing total meeting time past the four hour mark.

This council meeting was held at the Platte Valley Community Center due to the large crowd expected to attend as a result of the considerable publicity the lease question has received in the newspapers, radio, and social media over the course of the last month.

The publicity and concern produced more than 90 people.

Saratoga has had an ongoing struggle to establish a stable Medical Clinic after the abrupt closure of the Clinic with the departure of its doctor last October.

Karl Rude, who owns and operates the Saratoga Care Center nursing home, was asked by the previous Town Council to reestablish the Clinic here after it closed. HMS has been striving to reestablish a full-service Clinic here since signing the lease with the Town on October 1, 2018. This lease is set to run thru December 31, 2022.

While the Clinic has made considerable progress toward their goal of full-service in Saratoga, as of this printing, HMS still has been unable to meet at least two of the lease’s primary provisions.

∙ The first issue is — “Lessee shall ensure the availability of 24/7 on-call services provided by or at the direction of a doctor of medicine or osteopathy, …” The Clinic is currently open only 8-5 Monday thru Friday. It provides no after hours or weekend services.

∙ The second major lease issue is the Clinic does not have an on-site doctor. “Lessee shall maintain a staff of at least two full time mid-level practitioners, and (a) medical oversight doctor of medicine or osteopathy, … assign(ed) … “to work at the Corbett Medical Building, …” HMS now has two full time mid-level practitioners with the arrival of a second Nurse Practitioner this Spring but has been unable to provide a full time doctor to the Clinic.

Another local concern is that HMS will not provide any emergency services at this Clinic as has been done in the past. This new policy was outlined by Karl Rude at the May 7 council meeting.

∙ “The clinic is not an emergency department, and … legally they cannot be, and the ambulances cannot (stop at the clinic) and should not have been going to the clinic in the past.”

The lease compliance issue first surfaced officially at the May 7th Council meeting, when members of the Town Council and the Town’s attorney Tom Thompson raised concerns with HMS’s inability to meet all the terms of their contract with the town.

After some discussion the lease compliance topic was tabled “until the next meeting (May 21) to give each party time to review the lease and have their suggestions available to make revisions to the current lease.”

At that town council meeting, the topic of the Clinic lease was not on the printed agenda and was not discussed during the meeting.

Instead there was an unannounced presentation by the CEO of the Carbon County Memorial Hospital, Robert Quist, who was accompanied by three members of the five-member Hospital Board. Quist laid out in some detail all the services currently available at the Rawlins hospital and why it is to Saratoga’s advantage to continue going there.

Quist said a partnership between the Clinic and the Hospital “would be great”.

When asked if the Saratoga Clinic would have a full time Doctor Quist said “No”. “Memorial would recruit a physician to cover a portion of the time here and a portion of the time in Rawlins.” “(We would) evaluate the volume of patients (in Saratoga) and (would) adjust the time spent here as necessary.” When asked if Memorial Hospital had doctor ready to come here Quist said, “(It’s) easy to find physicians – harder to find a physician that will fit into the lifestyle here.”

When asked by Councilman Nelson “if they had attempted to partner with the current providers.” Quist said, “no they had not” and they were “not wanting to interfere with the current providers”. “If changes were necessary … they would be very interested in proposing an opportunity to step in.”

When asked if they were interested in the nursing home, Quest stated “No.”

This unannounced presentation by Memorial Hospital caused some concern. This coupled with a leaked E-mail published by the Saratoga Sun, of communication between the Mayor John Zeiger and Town Attorney Tom Thompson recommending the termination of the HMS contract caused the social media in the Platte Valley to explode.

This resulted in the much-anticipated town meeting of June 4th.

Among the many speakers were the mayors of both Riverside and Encampment who both urged caution when considering the dismissal of HMS as the clinic operator. Both reminded the Saratoga Council that the Saratoga Clinic serves the entire Upper Platte Valley and that no action should be taken without first consulting with the other towns and citizens of the area.

An oft mentioned solution to the Town’s lease dilemma was to sell the Clinic building to the Corbitt Foundation or some other entity and get out of the business of attempting to manage the Upper Platte Valley’s healthcare and back to the business of running the town. This solution also has its own complications, however.

After lots of public comment and plenty of one-on-one conversations before the meeting between council members and its citizenry, caution was the order of the day and the topic of amending or canceling the clinic lease remained without a motion of any kind, but an agreement to study the matter further in the future was promised.

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