Some of the bills resolved by the settlements date as far back as 2002, said Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric.
“It’s certainly been a long process,” he said.
Title 25 of state statute says that when someone is deemed to be a threat to their self or others and involuntarily committed to a hospital, that individual’s county of residence is on the hook for paying for their first three days of care if the person can’t pay the bill.
But it can be more complicated than that. For example, if someone is mentally ill, but also has a broken arm and gets X-rays, is that a cost that must be paid by the county? And has the individual actually lived in Park County for 90 days before they were committed, or should another county be picking up the tab?
Skoric said some Title 25 bills the hospitals for Title 25 patients were paid as they came in. Bills included in the settlement were an accumulation of the ones where there was disagreement.
“Certainly the county never took the position that ‘We don’t owe you anything,’” he said. Rather, he said, it was, “What do we owe pursuant to Wyoming law?”
The settlement also lays out clear ground rules for how claims will be dealt with in the future. For example, there are caps on how much money the hospital can bill the county for Title 25 commitments — something the county wanted for budgeting purposes.
“Certainly, starting with a clean plate is beneficial for the county; it’s (also) beneficial for the hospitals, and we can move forward,” Skoric said.
While not having specific figures, Skoric said the settlement was for less money than what the hospitals originally asked for.
The Powell Valley Healthcare board approved the agreement Aug. 27.
“I believe that this is a good compromise,” Powell Valley Healthcare CEO Bill Patten said last week. “It resolves all past claims, and I think it sets out in a fairly simple manner the process for moving forward that hopefully will prevent us from repeating this contentious situation.
“We really could use the cash infusion from the back payment, so that’s a positive thing,” Patten added.
Doug McMillan, chief executive officer for West Park Hospital, said Friday the agreement was welcomed there as well.
“The hospital board and administration are very glad we’ve reached an agreement with the commission. This is an issue we’ve worked on with the Park County Commission and the Park County Attorney for approximately 10 years,” he said. “Now we have an agreement with a settlement for past claims, and we also have an agreement for moving forward.”
It was more than a year ago, in April 2011, that West Park and Powell Valley hospital officials went public with their concerns about having gone unpaid. The boards and commissioners met several times behind closed doors to discuss the issue. Commissioners had said they expected a deal to be reached in June, but that didn’t happen.
Commissioner Loren Grosskopf compared resolving the issue to “giving dry birth to a porcupine.”
“Park County recognizes our obligation under Title 25, and I’m very pleased that we’re able to arrive at a solution to this with both hospitals,” said Commissioner Dave Burke as the commission approved the settlement at their Aug. 21 meeting.
Burke’s term on the commission ends in January and he is not seeking re-election, but he announced last week that he is running for the West Park Hospital board.
Writing the six-figure checks will put a significant dent in the county’s 2012-2013 budget.
Commissioners had set aside $189,000 this fiscal year to potentially settle the hospitals’ bills and pay for a scheduled capital murder trial next spring. But the $711,533 just for the hospital bills will suck up all of that sum, another $272,039 that had been earmarked to go into reserves and require another $250,494 to be taken out of reserves.
“Title 25 is certainly a huge ... problem with regards to its expenses in the state of Wyoming and certainly from my perspective. I hope it’s something the Wyoming Legislature addresses in the near future to get these expenses under control,” Skoric said, to agreement from Commission Chairman Tim French.
Skoric said he believes the current system laid out in state law is inefficient and overly expensive.
The county has separately budgeted $160,000 to pay for involuntary commitments, which occur in the current budget year, which runs through next July.
Skoric said Park County typically has between 50 and 80 such cases each year.