When Flathead Valley Orthopedic Center recently announced its intention to create an outpatient orthopedic surgery and MRI imaging center, the news ignited a firestorm of concern from Kalispell Regional Medical Center (KRMC), which currently offers similar services.
“If you were to look at any medical center from 25 to 500 beds, they would all say that orthopedics are a major, major part of their revenue. You can’t afford to lose that,” says KRMC Vice President of Community Relations Jim Oliverson. Jack King, chairman of the Northwest Healthcare Foundation, which was created to maintain the excellence of the hospital, says his concern is derived from a fear that Flathead Orthopedic will “cherry pick” patients who can afford to pay for services while leaving those who can’t afford services to the hospital. This would force the hospital to cut programs, King says.
“I think the first thing to go is going to be the A.L.E.R.T. [medi-copter]. That’s been a big [money] loser for the hospital, but I’ll tell you, it’s been good for this area. If somebody has a heart attack down at Flathead Lake, you’ve got to get them in. Well, if we can’t afford that, I wonder if Flathead Orthopedic will buy an airplane to take care of it. I don’t think so.”
What King calls concern others see as scare tactics.
“I don’t know where that [A.L.E.R.T. statement] comes from,” says Adele Rittmueller, administrator of Flathead Valley Orthopedic. “The hospital would naturally reevaluate its revenues and budget for the impact of this, which is more than a year away.”
Rittmueller adds that Flathead Orthopedic has no intention of “cherry picking,” and that market competition may provide patients with better orthopedic rates.
A group of physicians from KRMC and Flathead Orthopedic met to discuss the new proposal privately Thursday, Nov. 18. According to Flathead Orthopedic’s Dr. Donald Ericksen, the meeting opened up a dialogue, but nothing has been resolved yet.