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Wyoming Mothers Struggle With Baby Formula Shortage

in News/wyoming economy
Riverton Walmart, May 16, 2022.
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By Ellen Fike and Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Lillian Rodriguez got lucky. 

When the Casper mother of 3-month-old twins heard about the recall of Similac Sensitive baby powder formulas in mid-February, she had 10 small cans of the formula that she hadn’t yet opened.

Rodriguez is grateful that she had not fed any of the potentially tainted formula to her infants and was able to return it through the recall.

Grocery stores across the country are reporting shortages of baby formula with the decision of Abbott Nutrition, the Michigan-based manufacturer of Similac, Alimentum and Elecare, to voluntarily recall the products on Feb. 17 because of concerns over possible bacterial contamination.

Since the recall, Rodriguez hasn’t been able to find Similac Sensitive on shelves, but has since switched formula to Enfamil Gentlease. 

This, too, has been hard to find on occasion, she said, but since the recall, she’s made a point to stock up on the replacement formula and currently has about a six-week supply.

“Right now, the supply is pretty good,” she said. “I knew we were going to have a shortage, so I breastfed them for two months and have about six big cans and a couple small ones and continue to buy whatever I can.”

Usually, she can’t find it at larger box stores like Walmart but occasionally has luck at smaller grocery stories like Ridley’s or Target, she said.

Abbott’s recall came after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported that five infants had become sick from illnesses related to cronobacter sakazakii, a bacteria that causes serious infections in some infants. 

 The FDA closed Abbott’s manufaturing plant in Sturgis, Michigan, while it and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigated the facility.

On May 12, the CDC announced that its investigation was over after no additional cases were identified, though the FDA continues its investigation as the production facility remains closed, according to a recent update from the FDA. Abbott announced last week the plant could be back up and running by the end of the month.

The shutdown exacerbated a formula shortage blamed on supply chain problems stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. As of May 10, out-of-stock shortages nationwide had risen to 43%, according to Datasembly, a data collection company that provides real-time product pricing, promotions, and assortment data for retailers.

Some of the larger retailers are limiting in-store purchases to three cans to help prevent stockpiling as supply shortages continue.

In Wyoming, the empty spaces on the shelves are noticeable in stores throughout the state.

Like Rodriguez, other mothers are scrambling to stock up on infant formula for fear of running out and in preparation for more possible shortages in the future.

Katharine Wilkinson, a Cheyenne attorney and mother of four, said supplies are limited so when she sees formula in a store, she grabs it.

“I buy it every chance I get because formula is my only option,’ Wilkinson said, whose youngest turned 4 months old on Sunday. “I don’t want to run out. Sam’s and Target limit how much you can get, and they are usually out of stock.”

Even mothers like Kayla Strid of Cody whose babies are not affected by the formula shortage worry that it’s only a matter of time before desperate parents begin turning to other products to feed their children.

Strid’s switched her 9-month-old to soy formula back in January because he wasn’t tolerating anything else, and she’s had no problem finding it on the shelves so far. She said she feels lucky he wasn’t on Gentlease or any of the hard-to-find formulas.

“I’m really scared that people who can’t find their brand will turn to soy milk,” she said.

If the soy disappears, Strid will have to try goat’s milk, she said, and she’s a bit worried about that. She also receives subsidies from state’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program that allows her seven small cans of soy formula a month, which doesn’t cover her son’s needs for the month.

Supply Challenges

The Wyoming WIC program allows clients to buy infant formula from local stores using their benefit cards. For clients who need to purchase specialty formulas for their infants for medical reasons, the program orders and provides the formulas directly, according to Kim Deti, public information officer for the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH).

The program serves more than 1,100 infants.

“Regarding the current situation, the program has had challenges since the announcement of the Abbott recall,” Deti said. “WIC staff has been communicating and working with program clients about infant formula supplies since the recall was announced. Steps taken have included expanding options approved for formula purchased (brands and sizes) using WIC benefits.”

Unfortunately, Deti noted, the program is also seeing shortages in locations across the state for almost all formula options, with staff continually trying to order and provide formula directly through WIC clinics to client families unable to find the formulas in their local stores.

“The biggest issue is with specialty formulas certain children need for medical reasons,” she said. “Staff continues trying to order all types of formula from various online sources or directly through manufacturers, but with very limited success. What they can find, they are purchasing for distribution through clinics.”

Assistance

The shortage has prompted some to provide help by selling breastmilk online.

Cheyenne resident Mackenzee Shultz has offered to start pumping and selling her breastmilk through a Facebook group, Cheyenne Community Connections. 

She told Cowboy State Daily she wanted to help because she saw friends from all over the country struggling to find the proper formula for their babies. 

“I’m a stay-at-home mom who could possibly dedicate a lot more time to breast pumping,” she said. “I did my research on how you can make your body start pumping again.”

Shultz has three children, the youngest of which is 1. Although she has had issues with pumping and nursing in the past, she wanted to do her part to help parents in need. 

“If people need the milk, and I can make it, then I want to do what I can,” she said. “We should all think about doing it right now, more than ever.”

Since she is putting in both time and effort to generate breastmilk, she would like to be compensated for it, she said.

She did not say if anyone had taken her up on her offer, but her Facebook post generated a significant amount of interest, both from exhausted mothers in need and supportive community members who cheered on Shultz for her generosity.

Cheyenne Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Kathy Baker told Cowboy State Daily on Monday there has not been an increase in breastmilk donations to the hospital’s Human Milk Donation and Outreach Center. 

The Human Milk 4 Human Babies’ Wyoming chapter, which partners milk donors with babies in need, did not immediately respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Monday.

Biden Administration Getting Involved

President Joe Biden announced on May 12 that his administration is working with retailers and manufacturers to explore ways to get more infant formula to families, according to a statement from his office.

The 20 specialty formulas in short supply are used by about 5,000 infants nationwide, the statement said, as well as some older children and by adults with rare metabolic disorders.

Some of the steps taken by his administration include cutting red tape to get infant formula to store shelves more quickly by simplifying product offerings and speeding up production, as well as working with state agencies to make it easier for families in need to purchase formulas with their WIC benefits.

The administration is also calling on state attorneys general and the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on price gouging and other unscrupulous online retailers jacking up their prices.

Other measures include increasing imports from trading partners in Mexico, Chile, Ireland and the Netherlands. Typically, the U.S. produces about 98% of the infant formulas consumed in the country, but the FDA is urging these other countries to step up their imports of these products.

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Sleep Experts Say Quit Changing Time On Clocks; Pick One And Leave It Alone

in News/Health care
Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

It’s an idea whose “time” has come.

That’s how the American Academy of Sleep Medicine welcomed the U.S. Senate’s passage of a bill that would do away with the twice annual change between Standard and Daylight Savings Time.

For those in Wyoming who study sleep patterns and the effect on people’s overall health, it’s about time.

Fatigue, sleepiness, irritability and insomnia are common symptoms associated with the semi-annual time change reported to the Wyoming Sleep Disorder Center in Cheyenne, according to Jerry Crawford, the center’s director.

“Because we’ve confused the body,” he said. “It had adjusted to a certain amount of light at a certain time, and things getting dark at a certain time. And then we flip that, and it takes a little bit of time to readjust.”

Crawford’s organization conducts testing to help evaluate various types of sleep disorders. The center also has a sleep specialist who sees patients and a sleep clinic for therapy, follow-up and general consultation for any type of sleep disorders. 

Crawford told Cowboy State Daily that the center does see an increase in patients right around the twice-annual time change.

“Initially we can see an increase in patients, people complaining about fatigue, just feeling tired and a little bit off, right around that change from Standard Time to Daylight Savings Time, and from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time in the fall,” he said.

Crawford said for those already experiencing health issues, the change in sleep patterns can exacerbate their conditions, although he said it’s usually just a temporary development.

“If we see any exacerbation or aggravation of previous medical conditions, typically we can expect that to resolve within a couple of weeks,” he explained.

Standard Or Daylight Savings?

Crawford said any permanent change, whether to Standard Time or Daylight Savings Time, would have its benefits.

“I think they both have their pros and cons,” he said. “There are valid reasons to argue both sides of that coin, there are pros to Daylight Savings Time, there are pros to Standard Time.”

Although the time change bill passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate in March would set clocks permanently in the Daylight Savings Time mode, Crawford said the human body would probably react better to staying on Standard Time.

“When we’re looking at the physiology and the biology of humans, Standard Time is probably going to be a little bit better for us,” he said. “Especially for our kids – we’re getting them up early in the morning, it’s still dark outside, it’s taking them a little longer to wake up. They’re having problems in the first period of school, things along those lines.”

To illustrate the difference, if on Dec. 20, the shortest day of the year, the sun rises at 7:45 a.m. during Standard Time, a switch to full-time Daylight Savings would see the sun rise at 8:45 a.m. 

“But with Daylight Savings Time, there are some societal pros,” Crawford added, because of the later hours of daylight. 

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, on its website, heartily endorsed the end to the twice-annual clock change. However, the academy noted that the human body – and public health – would benefit by staying at Standard Time year-round.

The U.S. House of Representatives has yet to review the bill that supports permanently moving the nation’s clocks ahead an hour. If it passes the House, the change would not take place until November of 2023.

The change in times most Americans abide by was made official in 1966 with congressional approval of the Uniform Time Act, which set the time changes to happen on the first Sunday and April and the last Sunday in October. 

In 2005, Congress extended Daylight Savings Time by an additional three weeks, to begin the second Sunday in March and end the first Sunday in November.

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Fremont County Gets $37 Million For New Hospital

in News/Health care
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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

The largest U.S. Department of Agriculture loan ever made in Wyoming has moved Fremont County $37 million closer to a new hospital.  

The Riverton Medical District, a nonprofit group formed in 2019 by community members, announced Monday that the USDA has awarded a $37 million low-interest loan toward the building of a new hospital north of Riverton. 

The loan, which leaves the project just $10 million short of full funding, is the largest USDA loan ever provided in Wyoming, said Corte McGuffey, an RMD board member.

The new hospital will compete with SageWest Health Care in Riverton, an idea conceived in 2018.  

“In a few months it will be four years since my former freshman P.E. teacher Janis Bradley came up with the crazy idea to do something about our hospital situation,” McGuffey said during a news conference Monday. “She called the meeting with a group of local leaders.”  

Initially, the activists wanted to remedy what they saw as the failings of SageWest, including a high rate of patients being flown out of Riverton for treatment, the 2016 closure of the Riverton obstetrics ward, the lack of ability to respond to burns and other issues.  

The obstetrics ward remains closed. Lander SageWest Health Care retained its obstetrics ward.  

“Back then the goal was not to build a new hospital,” said McGuffey. “It was to save our hospital. But meeting after meeting – in those early days – it became evident that our health care situation would not improve unless a different course was taken. 

“That’s when our cowboy ethic took over,” he continued. “We drew the line, and the mission changed to ‘Let’s build a new hospital.’”  

Riverton City Council Member Kristy Salisbury said in a later phone call that the RMD has identified other possible sources for the remaining $10 million. 

SageWest Health Care countered in an email Monday to Cowboy State Daily that the existing hospital is “committed to ensuring that the residents of Fremont County have access to high-quality, full-service hospital care close to home,” and that SageWest is “proud of our dedicated teams and all that they do to meet the healthcare needs of Fremont County at both our Riverton and Lander campuses.”

Tribal Parcel 

Plans call for the new hospital to be built on 12 acres of land, four of which were donated by the Eastern Shoshone Tribe on its 300-acre parcel north of Riverton known as the Shoshone Business Park.  

The acreage when pledged was worth about $1 million and comprised a significant portion of the equity required to secure the USDA loan.  

Riverton Medical District is purchasing the other 8 acres from the tribe for $2 million.

Competition The ‘American Way’ 

The new hospital could improve services and prices by competing with the existing facility, according to John St. Clair, chairman of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe.  

“It’s going to provide much-needed medical services, for not only Riverton, but the entire community,” he said. “But beyond that, it will provide a level of competition to the  services that currently exist. 

“Competition,” St. Clair continued, “will hopefully result in better prices for our people to pay for those services. We know that competition is the basis for our economy – and more than that, it’s the American way.” 

Many Eastern Shoshone Tribal members live near Riverton on the Wind River Indian Reservation, along with members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe.  

Billings Medical Clinic 

RMD last year signed a letter of intent to affiliate with the Billings Medical Clinic.  

Dr. Scott Ellner, Billings Medical Clinic CEO, told the crowd Monday that his organization emphasizes locally-controlled healthcare, and intends to keep medical decision-making in local hands.  

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Gillette Hospital Projecting At Least $10M In Losses, Officials Hopeful For Future

in News/Health care
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Although the Campbell County hospital is projecting losses of at least $10 million, officials are hopeful that recent changes will prevent the possible bankruptcy Campbell County Health is facing.

Hospital officials announced this week that recent financial projections showed that without decisive action, the hospital could be bankrupt by 2026, leaving thousands of people without emergency health care in Campbell County.

Hospital spokeswoman Karen Clarke said that officials released the information in order to help the community better understand the situation.

“One of the biggest misconceptions about CCH is that we are fully taxpayer-funded,” Clarke told Cowboy State Daily on Friday. “County and state funds account for approximately 5% of our revenue. So while Campbell County residents see $10 million going to CCH, that is only 3% of our operating revenue.”

Medicare, Medicaid and medical insurance make up most of the hospital’s revenues, Clarke said, but Medicare reimburses the hospital at a lower rate than medical insurance.

“Our aging population means there are going to be more and more Medicare patients, and those patients tend to be sicker,” she said. “Medicare reimburses at (87 cents per $1 spent) as opposed to $1.45 for commercial insurance  As more competitors come into the market, they are going after commercially insured patients because they do not have to accept all patients.”

While the hospital accepts all patients, regardless of their ability to pay, administrators have to figure out what services the hospital can provide at a loss and which services need to be expanded through partnerships, business development and marketing.

Clarke pointed out that Wyoming has a higher rate of Medicare and uninsured patients compared to the national rate, with 16.2% of Wyoming’s patients being on Medicare compared to 14.2% nationally and 12.3% having no insurance, compared to 9.2% nationally.

While hospital officials have been aware of the situation in recent years, Clarke said that the COVID pandemic dramatically affected the health care industry, including CCH.

The pandemic and its related surges of infections repeatedly shut down some services at CCH, such as elective surgeries. Additionally, during the surges, the hospital was hit with a large number of “very sick” patients, limited staff and shortages of personal protective equipment.

“We diverted staff from elective surgeries and other departments to staff our ICU, Medical Surgical unit, Emergency Department, and our primary care facilities,” Clarke said. “While many people in Wyoming think of the pandemic as a windfall for hospital systems, it was devastating financially.

“As recently as January, when the most recent COVID-19 wave hit, we had to once again shut down our surgical unit to all but emergency surgeries,” she continued. “Prior to that, the last shutdown, which consisted of limiting the number of elective surgeries based on available hospital beds and staffing, lasted from September to the end of November.”

Clarke noted that hospital officials have been projecting losses of at least $10 million since last fall.

Clarke said that the hospital is taking several steps to attempt to resolve the budget issues, such as affiliating with health care system UCHealth.

“Being part of the group purchasing program alone saved us over $750,000 in the first quarter of 2022,” Clarke said. “Having the ability to cross-train nurses as scrub techs by sending them to UCHealth has helped us bring back our surgery procedures to a more pre-pandemic schedule.”

Hospital officials must also think about finding efficiencies across all services lines and developing partnerships with local and regional health care providers, she said.

The hospital is also collaborating with a company to resolve billing issues, which Clarke said has helped reduce total unbilled accounts by 62% since August.

“This is significant because patients are no longer waiting months for a bill and we are realizing that revenue more quickly,” Clarke said. “We have been able to reduce the time to process requests for copies of medical records from over 90 days at one point to an average of 11 days.”

Finally, the appointment of interim CEO Jerry Klein has been especially helpful in recent months, Clarke said.

“He has been working closely with both finance and leadership to start tackling these issues,” she said. “Klein has worked with CCH leadership, directors, managers and supervisors since Jan. 1 to collaboratively understand and identify potential areas of improvement.”

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Gillette Hospital Facing ‘Financial Insolvency’ By 2026

in News/Health care
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Campbell County’s hospital is facing such massive budget shortfalls that it could be facing “financial insolvency” in just a few years, its leadership announced this week.

Campbell County Health officials did not return Cowboy State Daily’s repeated requests for comment on Wednesday and Thursday.

Hospital officials announced this week that recent financial projections showed that without decisive action, the hospital could be bankrupt by 2026, leaving thousands of people without emergency health care in Campbell County.

Hospital officials said the issue of financial troubles is one many rural health care facilities are facing across the country and one that was exacerbated by the pandemic, which caused hospitals across the country to lose “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

“More broadly, our community population is aging, our population is sicker, we have a higher number of people who are uninsured or underinsured, and our outdated technology has hampered our ability to quickly pivot and respond to financial losses,” hospital officials said this week.

Nineteen rural hospitals in the United States closed in 2020, and more followed in 2021, according to the University of North Carolina, which has tracked the number of rural hospitals in the nation since 2005.

The 19 closures in 2020 was the biggest loss of rural hospitals in a year since UNC began tracking those records.

Campbell County Health officials said they are addressing the situation “head-on” and are “on track to strengthen both the quality of healthcare and the financial viability of CCH for generations to come,” but did not respond to a question from Cowboy State Daily about the hospital’s strategies.

The announcement said hospital leadership and the board of trustees have been taking measures to move toward financial stability, such as affiliating with health care system UCHealth, working with a company to address billing issues, implementing a new health care software system and selecting a new CEO.

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Wyoming Mental Health Official Expresses Concern About Health Care ‘Crisis’

in News/Health care
File photo
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Published on December 9, 2021December 9, 2021  in News/Crime

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming mental health care officials are asking residents to contact their legislators to urge them to action in addressing the state’s mental health care system, which they said is currently in “crisis.”

Heath Steele, president of the Wyoming Association of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Centers, said his group is very concerned about the status of mental health care and services in the state.

“Mental healthcare in our state is in crisis. Wyoming is the worst ranked state, at 29.8 deaths due to intentional self-harm per 100,000 population, twice the national average,” said Steele, who is also executive vice president of operations for Volunteers of America of the Northern Rockies. “The system is stressed with more than 28,000 Wyoming citizens accessing state funded mental healthcare last year. That is in addition to those Wyoming citizens who used insurance or were able to private pay for services.”

Steele said the problems in mental health care in Wyoming can be tracked to a lack of funding and staff to provide services.

“This crisis was not caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, but it has certainly been exacerbated by COVID-19,” Steele said. “Perpetually underfunded and understaffed, mental healthcare providers in all 23 counties of Wyoming are finding it harder than ever to provide adequate care for the increased rates of substance abuse, mental health disorders, and other behavioral health issues.”

Steele noted that while Volunteers of America was “blessed” to have staff members who are passionate, motivated and dedicated to serving those in need, they were also exhausted due to working long hours for little pay.

“Federal funding has been provided through the CARES Act, but it was restricted in a way that created more work for programs and staff,” Steele said. “By adding beds with leased quarantine units, programs were able to respond to the crisis created by the pandemic. But this type of response, one that creates more work for front-line staff, results in COVID fatigue and is unsustainable in the long term, doing nothing to reform a broken system.”

He added a state investment into system-wide reform, rather than further cuts in mental health care spending, are needed on the part of legislators.

He said the state cannot afford to put its mental health care systems on the “back burner” any longer.

“We need to invest in system-wide reform, instead of further cutting the budget,” he said. “We need to educate and retain Wyoming youth who are interested in becoming mental health experts. We need to understand that providing Wyoming citizens with much-needed mental health services will decrease Title 25 holds, incarceration and even the state’s suicide rates.”

He encouraged Wyoming residents to reach out to their legislators and let them know mental health care needed to be one of their top priorities in the next legislative session.

WAMHSAC will be advocating for several issues during the next session, including supporting using funds from the general fund budget to support people in various degrees of crisis and to have a suicide hotline that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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Former Campbell County CEO Receives $675,000 Severance Pay

in News/Health care
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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

Campbell County Health has agreed to pay Colleen Heeter, it’s former chief executive officer, $675,000 as part of her contract-obligated severance package, the organization announced Friday.

The Nov. 5 announcement comes just over three weeks after the sudden termination of Heeter’s employment at the direction of the CCH Board of Trustees during a special meeting on Oct. 14, according to the Gillette News-Record.

Heeter had been employed by CCH for three years, beginning her role with the organization in 2018 as interim director of the powder river surgery center before accepting a position as CCH’s chief operating officer in January 2019.

In 2020, she accepted a position as CCH’s top executive officer at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and oversaw the organization’s affiliation with UCHealth, with whom she was employed until her termination as part of a management services agreement, per CCH.

In a Nov. 5 release, CCH thanked Heeter for her time and commitment.

The process for finding a suitable replacement for Heeter has begun, CCH said in the release, adding that the organization feels it is essential to attract and retain the very best leaders.

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Teton County Has Lowest Percentage Of Obese People

in News/Health care
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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

It could be the snow and all the fresh air.
It could be the outdoor fun that is there.
Or maybe the fact that they’re all fitness nuts
Or maybe nobody there likes doughnuts
But in the land where mountains rise like a steeple
Are the fewest of the few of Wyoming’s fat people.
(With apologies to Dr. Seuss)

Whatever the reason, Teton County is the slimmest county in the state, according to recently released state figures.

Figures released last week by the state Department of Administration and Information’s Economic Analysis Division showed only 12.2% of Teton County’s residents have a body mass index higher than 30, the lowest percentage in the state.

The figures were included in the Economic Analysis Division’s annual “Wyoming and County Profiles” publication, which provides information about demographics, health information, vehicle ownership and more on a county-by-county basis.

A body mass index or BMI is derived through a formula involving a person’s height and weight. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a person with a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese. 

Statewide, about 29.7% of Wyoming residents have a BMI of 30 or higher.

The highest percentage of obese people in the state, according to the report, was found in Goshen County, where 38.3% of the residents have a BMI of 30 or higher.

Health officials in Teton and Goshen counties were not immediately available to comment on the report.

Teton County residents appear to just be healthy overall, also boasting the smallest percentage of cigarette smokers in the state.

The report said only 10.1% of the county’s residents reported they had smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetimes and were still smoking.

By contrast, in Niobrara County, 34.1% of the residents identified themselves as smokers.

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Riverton Medical District Signs Letter of Intent to Affiliate with Billings Clinic

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Staff reports

A group of Riverton business and community leaders on Wednesday announced plans to build a new hospital in Riverton. 

The Riverton Medical District announced that it signed a Letter of Intent to pursue affiliation and clinical partnership with Billings Clinic, cementing the group’s strong focus on local health care with a trusted partner. 

The partnership with Riverton adds to Billings Clinic’s relationships in numerous Wyoming communities including Basin, Lovell, Powell, and two clinics in Cody. 

Billings Clinic is an independent not for profit, physician-led and community governed organization that is affiliated with (not owned by) the Mayo Clinic as a member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network. 

Billings Clinic brings experience in rural health care, and the Riverton facility would join 16 other health care facilities across Montana and Wyoming in addition to the tertiary care center in Billings, as part of Billings Clinic’s growing health system. 

“This is not just a win, it is a mammoth victory to have signed a Letter of Intent with Billings Clinic to be our clinical and management partner. They are a nationally recognized health system with a laser focus on advancing care in local communities in Montana and Wyoming. They were our first choice as a partner, offering unique experience that will keep our hospital locally owned and governed,” said Corte McGuffey, Riverton Medical District. 

“We reached out to other communities that work with Billings Clinic and received excellent feedback, including Beartooth Billings Clinic in Red Lodge, Montana.”

“In 2002, Beartooth Billings Clinic was looking for a partner who shared the same values as our Board and community. Lutheran Health Systems (now Banner Health) had exited our community in 1991 and we were leery of establishing another relationship. Billings Clinic not only shared our values, they guided our effort to achieve our ultimate goal – a new hospital. 

Today, ten years later, our organization is growing and thriving,” said Kelley Evans, CEO, Beartooth Billings Clinic.  

“We feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to partner with the Riverton Medical District because their core values align with ours. The ability to connect Riverton with the other communities we serve will help increase clinical services and advance patient care in the community,” said Dr. Clint Seger, Regional Chief Medical Officer, Billings Clinic. “Sustaining and growing health care services locally is a top priority for Billings Clinic.”

The next step for moving this project forward is approval of a low-interest loan of more than $40 million from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Riverton Medical District has met with the USDA on several occasions and the application process is now fully underway. “Our community has been so supportive of our efforts, including our collaboration with the Eastern Shoshone Tribe to secure land,” said McGuffey. “We are grateful for this support and are excited to bring these plans to fruition.”

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Wyoming Ambulance Services Facing Funding Emergency

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By Elyse Kelly, The Center Square

Wyoming’s ambulance services have reached a state of emergency as funding in many counties dries up.

Fremont, Sweetwater, Weston counties will all lose Emergency Medical Services (EMS) on July 1 if funding cannot be found for the program. Sweetwater and Weston both have potential solutions, but in Fremont, Wyoming’s second-largest county by landmass, no one has stepped forward to fill the gap, according to Luke Sypherd, president of the Wyoming Emergency Medical Services Association.

Wyoming’s funding structure for EMS is unsustainable, Sypherd said, and the overhead for running an ambulance service is costly.

“There are only 11 states in the United States that require EMS to be provided by law,” Sypherd told The Center Square.

Wyoming isn’t one of them, which is resulting in funding for EMS hitting the chopping block before other required services.

Subsidized labor through volunteers has kept Wyoming’s EMS afloat in the past, but that base is shrinking because of an increase in calls and the technicality and costs of maintaining EMS training.

Unlike fire and police, ambulances aren’t reimbursed for calls unless they transport a patient to a hospital. In addition, Medicaid and Medicare only cover somewhere between one-third and one-sixth of the cost of an ambulance trip, leaving a huge funding gap. 

The COVID-19 crisis sped these issues to a breaking point, Sypherd said. Funding dropped out as lower tax revenues combined with fewer reimbursable ambulance trips as EMT’s were encouraged to treat patients at home rather than taking them to hospitals.

Sypherd said one way to reduce costs is by restructuring to make services regional rather than every town having an EMS. This would result in cost savings because many positions could be consolidated into one and infrastructure could be used to cover a wider range.

“You have economy of scale for purchasing power within hospitals, you having a deeper staffing pool,” Sypherd said.

Cody Regional Health hospital runs a regionalized EMS that serves all of western Park County.

Even restructured, EMS still needs funding. Sypherd said there has to be some local or state tax-based revenue to help cover the costs of EMS. He suggests a list of possibilities already in use in some places, like a license plate tax, special health districts within a county, or sales tax.

“Very unpopular—people don’t like to pay taxes, but again when a government health insurance plan isn’t covering the cost of health care then the money has to come from somewhere else,” Sypherd said.

Sypherd also insisted EMS must be made a mandated essential service.

“Law enforcement and fire certainly are essential services, but then some of the other things that counties and cities are required to provide by law, you can’t tell me those are as essential as emergency medical services like 911,” Sypherd said.

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Gillette Hospital Accidentally Breaches Personal Info of 900 Patients

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Gillette hospital accidentally released the personal health information of 900 patients earlier this month with an email attachment.

Someone from Campbell County Health sent an email to a single person with an unintended attachment that contained patient information including names, account numbers and types of insurance.

“We take our role of safeguarding our patient’s personal information and using it in an appropriate manner very seriously,” said Colleen Heeter, CEO. “Campbell County Health apologizes for any concern this situation has caused our patients, is doing everything we can to rectify it, and ensure that it will not happen again.”

The breach was discovered within the hour and CCH officials immediately contacted the recipient, who was directed on how to permanently delete the attachment from email and all devices.

Hospital officials believe that any potential harm resulting from this breach has been mitigated and all affected individuals have been contacted.

The hospital has taken all appropriate steps to investigate the breach, including reporting to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and following internal policies and protocols, it said in a statement.

Process changes will be implemented in the organization based on the outcome of the investigation.

All CCH employees will be required to participate in additional education and training on best practices in protecting health information.

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Good News: Wyoming is Not the Fattest State In the Nation

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Although Wyoming is surrounded by much more fit states, at least we find ourselves in the lowest half of the fattest states in America (lowest meaning good).

A new survey came out today which ranked the fattest states in America.

The fattest states?  No surprise.  All in the south. West Virginia, Mississippi, and Arkansas take top honors, according to Wallet Hub.

Wyoming, on the other hand, ranked 31st in the nation. If you are feeling cocky, don’t look at Utah or Colorado (49th or 51st respectively). Don’t look up either. Montana ranks 45th. Even Nebraska beats us (at 40th).

The reason for the survey is not to fat-shame, they say. They point to “health consequences” of fatness — mostly diabetes.

“Fat is becoming the new normal in America,” the report reads. “According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than seven in 10 U.S. adults aged 20 and older are either overweight or obese.”

The U.S. spends nearly $200 billion in annual health care costs related to obesity, the report said.

The study, curiously, then lists the top 50 comfort foods for each state. Wyoming does very well in this respect.

Buffalo jerky is number one for our state — which comes in at 240 calories per serving.

That compares with fried cheese curds in Wisconsin (home of Chris Farley) — which has 1,190 calories per serving.

Nevada’s choice of comfort food calls seems logical.  “Hotel buffets” are listed as its residents’ top choice with 1,000 calories — although 5,000 calories seems more logical.

Maybe Wallet Hub should employ a fact-checker for that one. But definitely they need a spellchecker.  They list “pasties” as the top food item in Michigan.

Maybe but the pasties look more like “pastries” in the accompanying graphic. Or maybe they are just really weirdly shaped pasties.

CORRECTION: We’ve been told by many, many readers that pasties are not just things that strippers wear. They are actual food. We stand corrected.

Maybe there’s a reason that Utah comes in 51st with its choice of top comfort food. Something called “funeral potatoes” is the top choice. That, like Wyoming’s buffalo jerky, has a paltry 240 calories.

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In Brief: Medicaid study bill clears first House hurdle

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By Cowboy State Daily

A proposed study into the cost of Medicaid expansion barely cleared the House on Wednesday.

SF 146 was approved in its first review by the full House by a vote of 30-28. The bill would require the state Insurance Department to conduct a study into the cost of making Medicaid coverage available to more Wyoming residents.

Supporters have argued that before the state expands Medicaid coverage, it needs to know how many people would be affected and how much it would cost the state. The study would also look into the impact on health care providers, given the fact Medicaid dictates the cost of the services they provide.

The bill will be read a second time Thursday.

Health care study bill heads for final Senate reading

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A final Senate vote is scheduled for Tuesday on a bill that would launch a study into the cost of health care in Wyoming.

SF 67 was approved in its second Senate reading on Monday. The bill calls for  study to determine why Wyoming’s health care costs are higher than the national average.

According to bill sponsors, Wyoming’s hospitals charge patients about $4,000 per day, compared to the national average of $3,000 per day. The bill identifies about a dozen possible reasons for the disparity to be examined.

Bipartisan legislation introduced to delay health insurance tax hike

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s costly health insurance premiums can make it difficult for independent businesses to provide policies for employees, a National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) spokesperson said.

“Premiums are not decreasing — they’re increasing, and they have been for years,” said Tony Gagliardi, the NFIB state director for Wyoming and Colorado. “It makes it harder and harder for small employers to continue to provide the benefits for their employees.”

As a result, Gagliardi is welcoming a move proposed by U.S. Sen. John Barrasso and some of his colleagues to delay implementation of a tax on health care premiums created by the Affordable Care Act.

Wyoming Department of Insurance Senior Health Policy Analyst Denise Burke said the majority of Wyoming residents rely on health benefits provided by employers.

“We have a very high percentage of Wyoming residents who receive their insurance from their employer,” Burke said. “It’s about 59 percent. That’s above the national average.”

If the federal Health Insurance Tax takes effect as planned in 2020, anyone paying insurance premiums, including Wyoming’s employers, will see a jump in premium costs.

On Wednesday, Barrasso joined a bipartisan group of legislators trying to ensure health insurance premiums don’t jump up in 2020.Barrasso and Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, Doug Jones, D-Alabama, Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, introduced the Health Insurance Tax Relief Act to provide a two-year delay of the Health Insurance Tax (HIT) created by the Affordable Care Act, a news release from Barrasso’s office says.

If the delay fails, the tax could increase premiums by about 2 percent or $196 per person in the individual market, $479 per family in the small-group market, $458 per family in the large-group market and $157 for Medicaid premiums on average nationwide, the news release says.

“We’re very pleased and thanked Sen. Barrasso for pushing against HIT,” Gagliardi said. “Should that tax be implemented, it will be passed on to the policy holders.”

The NFIB is a non-profit organization, which represents small businesses in Washington, D.C., and each of the 50 state capitols. It was created 75 years ago and boasts approximately 325,000 members across the U.S. Gagliardi said the organization has been active in Wyoming for decades and represents about 2,300 small business owners throughout the state.

“Increased health insurance premiums themselves may not affect a business opening or closing,” he said. “It does have a workforce effect. Oftentimes, the inability of an employer to offer good health insurance affects their ability to attract good employees.”

Burke said Wyoming’s health insurance premiums are the second costliest in the nation, with only Iowa ranking more costly. 

“Across the board, rural health insurance is more expensive,” she explained. “Wyoming has higher than the national average smoking rate and a higher than average elder population, and all of those contribute.”

Currently, tax on premiums offered within the state is set at 3 percent, Burke added. Estimates within her department place the rate of Wyoming’s uninsured residents between 13-18 percent, and she said the national average was about 13 percent.

“Anecdotally, we are thinking the people who are leaving the market are the young and the healthy,” Burke said. “The way insurance works is balancing the cost pool between the healthy and the unhealthy, so without healthy people in the pool, the cost will go up.”

If the HIT takes effect in 2020, Gagliardi said the potential 2 percent increase to premiums could have serious ramifications for Wyoming’s workforce.

“The HIT tax could be the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said.

Wyoming Senate Update: Meat labeling, health cost study, drunken boating bills win approval

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Wyoming’s Senate wrapped up its week with a flurry of activity Friday, approving bills addressing meat labeling, a statewide study of health care costs and drunken boating.

SF 68 would require that only meat from livestock or poultry could be labeled as meat. The measure would also require that any meat not made from a harvested animal — such as a vegetable-based product — would have to be labeled as “imitation food.” The bill won final approval from the Senate on a vote of 25-3 and was sent to the House for its review.

Backers of SF 67 are seeking a study of Wyoming’s health care costs because national figures show the average cost to treat a patient in Wyoming is $4,000, compared to the national average of $3,000. The bill was approved in its first review by the full body on Friday and will be heard in its second reading Monday.

Finally, a measure that would impose the same standards on boating while drunk as are in place for driving while intoxicated was also approved in its first reading. SF 40 would set the blood-alcohol limit for operating a boat at 0.08 percent — the same limit in place for driving a car. For years, the boating standard has been set at 0.1 percent.

Health care study bill approved by committee

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By Cowboy State Daily

An effort to determine the cause of Wyoming’s high health care costs won approval Wednesday from a Senate committee.

The Senate’s Labor, Health and Social Services Committee approved SF 67 on a vote of 4-1, sending it to the Senate for debate by the full body.

The bill would direct the governor’s office to study Wyoming’s health care system to determine why the costs to patients are higher than the national average.

Senator Charlie Scott said the Labor Committee, which he chairs, identified a dozen possible reasons why Wyoming hospitals charge their patients an average of $4,000 for care compared to the national average of $3,000.

“We hope that we’ll find some that we can fix and that will help bring our health care costs down, because they’re a problem for all of us,” he said.

The study would also address allegations that the federal Medicare system pays health care providers less for their services than what those services cost.

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