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HLRC Adds, Replaces Board Members in Malta

Following a nearly two and half-hour meeting with over 20 members of the public, The Hi-Line Retirement Board of Directors replaced three current members of the board and voted in a new member to fill a vacant spot during a private, executive session.

Howard Hammond takes over a vacant spot on the board, Bob Ziegler replaces Bob Maxie, Susy Johnson replaces Rick Mikkelson and Michelle Smith replaces Ken Wiederrick. Mikkelson said nothing else was decided at the executive meeting.

“Their goal, if I may say, is to do everything they can to keep the facility open and will immediately be looking at avenues to do so,” Mikkelson said.

Mikkelson, who was the board president before the executive session, said a new board president will be voted on by the new-look committee. The meeting was held Sept. 19 at The First State Bank of Malta’s Community Room with very little notice given to most of the public. The meeting started at 7 p.m. and ran until nearly 9:30 p.m. Following the public meeting, the executive session took place with new board members being added, ending at nearly 11:30 p.m. During the public meeting, the HLRC’s Board and Health Management Services’ Joe Rude talked with the audience about the current problems facing Phillips County’s nursing home.

Rude said the problems started for nursing homes in Mont. when Brian Schweitzer was Governor and he “froze Medicad reimbursement for the State,” adding the problem has persisted under current Montana Governor Steve Bullock. “Medicaid is 70-percent of the revenue the facility generates,” he said. “That has not only had a significant impact on you, it has had a significant impact on facilities throughout the region.” Rude said that Choteau’s nursing home recently closed and said HMS has been working with the nursing home in Glasgow which has been having the same financial difficulties as HLRC.

“In fact, it was curious in the newspaper we were criticized for having a strong focus on money,” Rude added. “If we don’t have enough funds to operate the facility and move forward then we are going to find that we don’t have a facility.” Rude pointed to the debt incurred following the remodeling and expansion of the HLRC and six years of frozen Medicaid payments that has placed the nursing home in a $5.3 million hole. “The current loan payments for the facility are $21,000 per month,” he said of the USDA loan for the remodeling. “That is something that has to be paid every month whether we like it or not.” Rude said some of the problems HMS was faced with when taking over HLRC are a result of a lack of cooperation between HLRC and the Phillips County Hospital, including issues with Medicad billing and proper response time for lab reports.

“When we came in here, the private pay accounts receivable were over $400,000,” Rude said. “We now have that down to around $200,000…that’s money that families didn’t pay for the care that was delivered at the facility.”

In a letter to the editor in last week’s Phillips County News, Malta resident Noel Emond asked that a complete audit of the HLRC be conducted. At Monday night’s meeting, Rude said the facility has been audited by Wipfli LLP and the report should be available sometime this month.

HMS’ Karl Rude – Joe’s son and operations vice president of HMS – told the Great Falls Tribune the HLRC has about 45 employees which include several traveling nurses brought to Malta to work and told the PCN in late August that those traveling nurses were paid $944,000 last year.

At the meeting, Joe Rude reiterated the burden of having to bring in out of town nurses and pay them up to $70 per hour plus room and board. Karl Rude also stated that an effort to recruit and retain local nurses has been unsuccessful in the past year. J. Rude stated, “Our goal was, and we thought we were heading in the right direction, that we would get the (traveling nurses) out and get more local people in.”

Rude said that he had prepared a letter of resignation and HMS would leave the nursing home. He said HMS has worked hard to fix the problems at HLRC and hasn’t been paid for any of it. “The goal has always been to create a quality environment and have a facility that is beneficial,” he said. “We have failed in that mission. We have failed in that mission because we don’t have the staff and we are prepared to pay the consequences by stepping out of here.”

Several current and former health care workers from Phillips County voiced their concerns of mismanagement of the HLRC staff by the higher-ups at the nursing home. They said there is bullying and intimidation and many nurses and CNAs would work at HLRC if they weren’t “chased out the door.”

“It was very hard for me to quit,” said a woman who recently left her CNA position at HLRC after more than six years. “I worked there for a long time and that’s what I love to do, but I was through with the drama. It’s overwhelming and those people need to leave. If they left, CNAs would come back . . . but people are favored there.”

Another healthcare provider and Malta resident said she continuously sees good employees treated poorly and leave their jobs. “I’m sick of watching what is going on there,” she said. “I have watched the bullying and intimidation. You would have a lot of staff up there still retained, but you can’t put them in a hostile environment where you have little tyrants running them and making them leave.”

Rude said he understands the concerns brought up and agreed people have had bad experiences working at HLRC. He added there are two sides to every story in personnel issues. “We are constrained by law and I’m not going to stand here and talk about every decision that was made,” Rude said. He added he has made himself available to employees but there has been no structured evaluation or questionnaire taken by employees up to this point.


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