After Pershing General Hospital CEO Cynthia Hixenbaugh recently gave notice, a search committee has the daunting task of recruiting a qualified replacement. Fortunately for the Lovelock community, Hixenbaugh agreed to stay on the job until her replacement is found.
Meanwhile, Hixenbaugh gave her monthly Rural Health Clinic Utilization Report, a COVID-19 Update and updates on other unexpected health care challenges for the PGH Board of Trustees last week.
In January, the clinic saw 748 patients. Of that number, 22 were new and there were 203 potential COVID patients that were seen “outside,” Hixenbaugh told the board. Eighty-six people were vaccinated for COVID and vaccines and boosters will continue to be available each week.
“They have scheduled dates every week for COVID vaccines and booster doses,” she said. “We continue to go to the Coeur mine site to offer vaccines as well. Appointment slots are continually blocked to accommodate any possible COVID patients as well as any other urgent patients.”
Home COVID test kits are available free-of-charge to community members, Hixenbaugh said.
As for staff, one more full-time, acute nurse is needed but critical access “is fully staffed.”
As Hixenbaugh explained a new problem with radiology services and other concerns, she revealed the ongoing challenge of maintaining essential services at a rural health care facility.
“What’s Cindy working on now? Probably one of the bigger things is radiology,” she said. “Our radiology group is North Star but they contract with Virtual Radiology to do our X-rays in the evenings and on the weekends…They are canceling contracts with small facilities across the country and we are one of them.”
In order to maintain night and weekend radiology services, the hospital may have to fork out an additional $30,000 per year for “administrative costs,” Hixenbaugh said. Otherwise, PGH may have to credential more than 30 radiologists, a three to six month process, she said.
“I hate to leave North Star but $30,000 is a large amount of money that we were not expecting,” she said. “Humboldt General is in the same boat so there’s going to be competition. Banner Churchill is losing Desert Radiology so they are also going to be looking for radiology coverage.”
Hixenbaugh may work out a solution for radiology services with Tahoe Carson Hospital. A special board meeting may be called for a quick decision on the essential services.
“We can’t be without night (radiology) at all,” she told the board. “We have to have it.”
Hixenbaugh used a video to show how the pandemic has pushed hospitals “to the breaking point” with “short-handed emergency rooms” and “nurses and doctors who were exhausted.”
“We wanted you to understand when we talk about staff shortages. It’s across the country and it’s not going to go away. We all know that agency (traveling) staff are not going to sustain us. We’re not going to be able to afford it. I just want you to have that in mind when you are thinking about the hospital’s future. Right now, our numbers are lower and hopefully it remains that way.”
As for locating her future replacement, Hixenbaugh recommended the board work with a recruitment agency to develop effective recruitment plans for the CEO job and other positions.
“It would be for the present and the future,” she said. “I created a physician recruitment plan that I update on an annual basis…It helps the board have an organized approach to recruitment.”
Board member Ted Bendure said the board has contacted several search firms but has not contracted with one and is exploring “another recruitment avenue that we trust will be fruitful.”
“That being said, it is not just as simple as putting out an ad and finding folks flocking to an interview. Few folks want to consider a rural setting unless they have a rural background and salary/benefits are also a concern. A hospital is a 24/7 operation that must meet the highest standards of care every second of every day — no exceptions as we are literally dealing with people’s lives! Pershing County has been blessed to have very dedicated staff and your Board desires to continue providing the residents of Pershing County the highest quality of care possible.”
Hixenbaugh shared some good news. A thank you card arrived from an unknown couple.
“Just when you feel like you are getting beat up, you get a nice note from strangers.”