Trustees table Close to Home vote until October

Members of the CCH Board of Trustees listen to the findings of a comparison between the Davis Hospice Center in Cheyenne and the Close to Home Hospice and Hospitality House in Gillette (Ryan Lewallen/County 17)

A long-awaited decision by the Campbell County Health Board of Trustees to permanently close or reopen a local hospice house did not come Thursday night with the board deciding to table the issue until October.

During their meeting on Sept. 23, the board did not vote on closing or reopening the Close to Home Hospitality and Hospice House, an issue that has been on the table since the facility was first closed in September of 2020, with several members voicing concerns that adequate attempts to explore other avenues to keep it open have not yet been made save for one, a recent comparison with the Davis Hospice Center in Cheyenne.

That comparison showcased a Cheyenne facility that was able to sustain twice the number of beds and staff than Close to Home while charging significantly more per day and requiring patients to pay a $2,500 down payment coupled with a family guarantor, which ensures the patient’s bill gets paid in the event they pass away, according to Mary Lou Tate, Campbell County Health (CCH) chief financial officer.

There are some options that can be explored to make Close to Home, which was operating at a loss when it was closed, less of a financial burden, such as implementing different programs to make services rendered more economical, but for one trustee at least, the visit and information gleaned from Cheyenne was more than a little late to the party.

“I’m probably not going to be the most popular guy in the room as I proceed forward with this, but I am extremely disappointed with both sides; our leadership team and the hospice leadership team,” Trustee Randy Hite said, adding that, in the six months since inpatient service at Close to Home was suspended, the board had heard that there may be options to keep the facility and it’s services going but failed to take any affirmative action.

Instead, Hite continued, the two entities on either side of the issue, the Board of Trustees and the now Northeast Wyoming Community Health Foundation, dug their heels in and stood their ground.

Instead of refusing to budge and throwing in the towel, he suggested that the board and the foundation work together to find a viable solution for Close to Home and stated firmly that he could not, in good conscience, vote to open or close the hospice and hospitality house until that happens.

-- Advertisement – Story Continues Below --

“I believe that the people who have invested in the hospice house, the people in this community, I believe they deserve better from us,” Hite said, drawing a round of applause from nearly every member of the audience.

Trustee Dr. Sara Hartsaw agreed with Hite, stating that she couldn’t cast a vote one way or the other that night.

“I think these are hard times for everybody,” she said. “I think that there’s been some unconstructive discussion and statements made on both our side and the foundation’s side. The public has been rightly concerned about what’s been going on here.”

The Davis Hospice Center visit was key, Hartsaw continued, and while it could have been done months ago after it was first discussed during the board’s spring retreat, it was too much at the time.

However, she assured those present that hospice services are being provided by CCH despite the closure of the hospice house and that it continues to be a good service for the people of Campbell County.

“It’s been almost a year since the hospice house closed,” Chairman Adrian Gerrits added. “I think the healthcare foundation is tired of having a conversation, at least, that was my sense.”

He said that the same feeling has been present with the board, or so he thought and said as much to local news outlets when he indicated that the board would be voting to close or reopen Close to Home during Thursday night’s meeting.

-- Advertisement – Story Continues Below --

“I guess I misread the pulse of the board,” he said, adding that he would not advocate for the board to vote on the issue that night, which should leave the foundation with feelings of unease that Close to Home will still need to be addressed soon.

DaNece Day, treasurer with the Northeast Wyoming Community Health Foundation, acknowledged that Gerrits spoke truly when he mentioned the board’s decision would leave the foundation with feelings of unease, but not necessarily for the reasons he believed.

“Our donors at this point are contributing over $122,000 a month in loss to keep the lights on in a building that is not being used,” she said, adding that the foundation has spent well over $140,000 in last year providing energy and utilities in a facility that is not being used as intended by community donors.

“And that’s who we answer to, our donors,” she continued. “We answer to our community, and we are committed to continuing to work with the board through a task force or any other entity that we need to make sure that the healthcare needs in this community continue to be a focus and that we continue to raise funds to make sure those needs are met.”

The issue will not be solved overnight, Gerrits said, but the discussion has led the board to a good place where it knows how much the organization was losing through Close to Home and, even if they voted to open Close to Home right then, it would still take several months before it was fully operational.

“Have patience with us,” Gerrits said. “And hopefully, we’ll have some better answers at the retreat next month.”

The board voted unanimously to table the issue until they met again during their retreat in October.