North Fork Valley residents know how hard it can be to get an appointment to see a local doctor. Many medical practitioners have left the Valley in recent years, leaving the The North Fork Medical Clinics understaffed. Three week waits are not uncommon. But there's hope that things could get better. The Delta County Memorial Hospital is taking over management of the North Fork Medical Clinics. Jason Cleckler, hospital administrator, says it seemed time for the hospital to step in.
"The hospital has worked with the North Fork clinics -- the one in Hotchkiss as well as the one in Paonia -- to try to improve things," he says. "They’ve had a couple issues that have made it difficult for them, including loss of practitioners, the expansion of Medicare and Medicaid, which has made it challenging for private practice to operate due to the lower reimbursement for those insurances, and just all the changes that have happened in health care reform." The nonprofit hospital already has six clinics under its wing, including a family practice in Olathe, and a variety of specialized clinics such as internal medicine and oncology in Delta. The for-profit clinics in the North Fork will become part of the nonprofit hospital, to increase efficiencies of scale and provide a support system. The first priority is to add a nurse practitioner. The next priority is another physician, says Cleckler. In addition, the hospital can offer visiting specialists. "We have a well-rounded medical staff, therefore we have the opportunity to look at sending specialists up to that area, whether it’s a pulmonology physician, ObGyn, we can send an internal medicine physician up there to start providing better access for the community," he says. Although many details have yet to be worked out, things are happening fast, and the changeover could happen as soon as early June. Following the model the hospital uses with the other clinics it manages, the doctors and some staff will become employees of the hospital. Cleckler says the merger is a positive step forward. "I want people to know that the hospital does listen, and we’ve heard the concerns both from the community and the practitioners in this case. And that’s why we’re stepping in to create this merger, to really reach out to the entire county."