Canyonlands Health Care Special Service District Board chair Doug Fix, at the far corner of the table, explains the details of an agreement that clears the way for Moab Regional Hospital to run the Canyonlands Care Center's daily operations. CHCSSD board member Ned Dalton, right, and Moab Valley Healthcare board member Kyle Bailey, in the background at right, are also pictured. [Photo by Rudy Herndon / Moab Sun News]

After two years of presentations, discussions and negotiations, the Canyonlands Care Center’s governing board has finally found a day-to-day manager to run the facility.

The Canyonlands Health Care Special Service District (CHCSSD) Board voted 5-0 on Thursday, June 18, to approve a five-year agreement that clears the way for Moab Regional Hospital to take over the care center’s daily operations, effective July 1. CHCSSD Board members Jeanette Kopell and Mel Sakrison were absent from the meeting.

Although the hospital’s governing Moab Valley Healthcare Board must still approve the agreement, hospital board member Kyle Bailey said he doesn’t foresee any obstacles in the way.

“I’m sure that everything will go fine,” Bailey told the Moab Sun News. “Several members of the board have been meeting with the care center (representatives), and we’ve sort of ironed everything out. I expect everything to be passed (on Thursday, June 25).”

The special service district board’s search had been going on for so long that CHCSSD Board member Vereald Dickerson joked that he would take serious action against anyone who rejected the agreement.

“I will make a motion that we accept it, and if anybody votes against it, I’m going to kill them,” he deadpanned.

However, Dickerson never had the chance to make good on that statement. The four other board members who were present quickly joined him in voting “aye,” with minimal follow-up discussion of the issue.

CHCSSD Board chair Doug Fix said there was a general consensus among board members that the close relationship between the two facilities made the hospital an obvious choice.

“I think we concluded that because of the commonalities of purpose, it really made sense to have the contract with Moab Valley Healthcare, rather than an outside provider,” he told the Moab Sun News.

Acting Moab Regional Hospital CEO Jen Sadoff echoed those comments.

“I think that the hospital and the special service district have a pretty strong working relationship with each other,” she told the Moab Sun News. “We’re all committed to utilizing our resources to making sure that people in the community have the health care resources they need.”

Bailey said that although the care center is not an especially profitable facility, it does provide an important community service to older residents.

“Finding somebody (else) to operate it would be a challenge because there’s no money in it,” he said.

Under the terms of the agreement, the special service district will retain control over the care center’s business decisions, as well as its policies, operations and assets.

“Our board is still financially responsible for the care center, and we approve (its) capital budgets,” Fix said.

Moab Valley Healthcare, meanwhile, will be responsible for providing contractual services to the facility, expanding on the idea behind an earlier agreement that allowed the hospital to hire Barbara Grossman as the care center’s new administrator.

“I think that from an operational perspective … to me, the hospital has always been great about consulting with our management,” Fix said. “This puts it in a more formal position of day-to-day management responsibilities.”

Sadoff said she believes that the care center will benefit from the additional involvement of Moab Regional Hospital Chief Financial Officer Craig Daniels, who brings a “tremendous” amount of knowledge about health care reimbursement and billing practices with him.

“It puts more eyes on the financial stability and the quality of the long-term care facility,” she said.

Bailey said he doesn’t expect to see much of a change in care center services under the hospital’s watch.

“But the care center will have more access to the hospital’s administration and expertise, so that should benefit the care center and the residents there,” he said.

Fix said he thinks the agreement will ultimately allow the special service district board to turn its attention to other health care needs in the community, such as the continued development of the campus surrounding the hospital and the care center.

“It frees up the district’s board to focus on bigger issues of health care in the county, and how they’re provided and funded,” he said.

The special service district board’s action came as the care center’s once-dire financial situation continues to improve.

The facility began to operate at a small profit in April 2014, when it received a lump-sum Medicaid payment for the 2013 year.

Its cash position is also “a lot” better than it has been, because the facility is collecting more and more accounts receivable, or the money that is owed, according to Canyonlands Care Center Business Manager Tom Lacy.

In addition, an infusion of mineral lease revenue from mineral development in Grand County has boosted its fiscal position, although those checks have been more variable in recent months, according to CHCSSD Board treasurer Ken Ballantyne.

Last month, for instance, the care center received a payment for nearly $400,000; this month’s mineral lease check dropped to just $36,000, Ballantyne said. Mineral lease funding allocations are based on an 18-month lag, so revenue from that source is projected to drop further in 2016, following last year’s global plunge in oil prices.

The care center is currently operating at a loss of about $113,000 for the year to date. But Lacy said he expects to see a turnaround if current trends continue.

While the facility reported that 32.13 of its 36 beds were occupied on average so far this year, 35 beds were full as of last week.

“If we get the census that we now have, which is (almost) full, it should wipe out our operating loss,” Lacy said.

In other good news for the facility, the Utah Bureau of Health Facility Licensing, Certification and Resident Assessment recently found that the care center has corrected two minor deficiencies it received earlier this year.

In comparison, the bureau identified 23 deficiencies at the facility in 2014, resulting in a $28,000 fine and lower ratings on the Nursing Home Compare website.

Grossman said that although she does not expect to see a five-star rating at this time, she anticipates that the care center’s ratings will improve significantly.

Change is set to happen on July 1

I think we concluded that because of the commonalities of purpose, it really made sense to have the contract with Moab Valley Healthcare, rather than an outside provider.