A healthy community depends on a healthy hospital, both in terms of physical and economic health. COVID 19 has shown how crucial SJH is to keeping us physically healthy and safe, not just in taking care of those who are sick but by standing alongside Public Health and local businesses on buying masks, developing sound antibody guidelines, and encouraging social distancing.
Because we are owned by the people of Teton County, our primary responsibility is to the residents of Teton County and not to shareholders or venture capitalists. Thanks to our amazing Foundation staff and Foundation board we quickly put up a fund for employees and their partners who are facing financial challenges due to COVID. This rarely happens at a large chain hospital where remote staff are not personally known to management.
In addition, because we are local, our administrators are key members of our Jackson community. This close proximity is part of why communication on COVID has been so consistent and strong. These things don’t ever happen by accident. The weekly talks, the daily updates on numbers of tests and cases consume hours to prepare, but the community trusts the data that SJH and Public Health provide. It’s transparent and credible.
I feel particularly fortunate during this pandemic that my first responsibility is to the health of our community versus to shareholder’s economic investments. Many people don’t understand the difference but having worked for a for-profit for more than 3 decades, the difference is critical. In my prior life, my responsibility was to do good but first to maximize profit. If my team continued a loss making services, I was not meeting expectations. I was under pressure to prune services, trim staff and to reinvest funds in profitable product lines. We talked about building childcare facilities for years, but could never justify the subsidies. Employee housing was unthinkable.
As trustees of a community owned asset, we have the responsibility to lead in protecting both the health and the economic prosperity of Teton County residents. In protecting the financial viability of SJH we protect our community; 700 employees live and work here. By providing sustainable housing and childcare we are helping entire families reach a higher level of economic security while relieving pressure for housing and childcare overall.
It’s easy to take our community owned status for granted because it’s an intangible, it’s not visible. But the decisions we make are based on our fiduciary responsibility to the community and not to Banner or HCA. Our decisions around medical services, housing, wellness offerings, childcare are highly visible and concrete results of our commitment to community ownership.
Over 150 rural hospitals have closed since 2000 and more have been sold to large hospital corporations, most recently for example, Wyoming Medical Center to Banner. Most closings have been in states that did not approve Medicaid expansion, which includes Wyoming. With tough economic times ahead, no one should take our community status for granted.