Small Hospital Faces Big Needs | VideoMichelle San Miguel | 11/4/2012
There aren`t many places to stop for a hot breakfast in Watford City. But after long hours on the road, it`s just what workers like John Ross are looking for. Ross owns a mobile service truck. He repairs many of the trucks in oil country.
Shortly before we met him, Ross says he drove by a car accident, the second one he`s seen in three days.
"We`re all over here to make some extra money. Don`t need to go home in a body bag or a casket because, well, I can make it go a little faster," said Ross.
"A lot of the accidents I`ve seen out on the highways: People falling asleep, people passing where they shouldn`t be trying to pass, just aggressive driving," said Bill Kinden, a drilling consultant.
Traffic accidents have emergency responders in over their heads. McKenzie County Memorial Hospital had a record 525 emergency visits in July.
"We see a lot of burns. We see a lot of crushed appendages. A lot of lacerations and things like that that come from working on the rigs," said Tucker Petersen, chief operating officer of McKenzie County Healthcare Systems.
Most trauma patients are seen in the hospital`s only emergency room.
Petersen said, "We are pinched for space in every conceivable way. We`re pinched for space: office space, clinical space, lab space, X-ray space and emergency room space."
When the emergency room is busy, patients are taken to a regular hospital room which doubles as an overflow ER.
Nurse Cheryl Faulkner has been working in the hospital for 31 years. She knows this is not the small-town hospital it once was.
"Thirty one years ago we knew everybody that came to our facility," said Faulker, who`s also the hospital`s director of nursing. "We used to be able to know their medical background, you know medications. What kind of treatment plans, you know and their conditions, their medical diagnosis. Today we don`t see that."
Here`s what they do see: plenty of patients who aren`t paying for care. The hospital has racked up more than $600,000 in bad debt since July. Most of that comes from visits to the emergency room. And when you`re dealing with a transient population, collecting money owed isn`t always easy.
"The first and foremost thing that we need to do and while it may be unfortunate and seem a little callous is to require up front collections at our clinic and everywhere else that we legally can do so. That is exempt in the emergency room," Petersen said.
It means patients need to take care of copayments and self-payments before care is provided.
The hospital plans to build a $55 million facility but employees admit coming up with the money isn`t easy. Hospital executives say they have not ruled out the possibility of a merger or a partnership down the road.
Tune in Monday when KFYR-TV reports on how other healthcare providers in oil country are dealing with the rapid growth.