Hospital mill renewal on Nov. 8 ballot


LUSK – In 2005 Niobrara county citizens voted to establish a special hospital district and reopen their closed hospital using mill levy (tax) money to support this district. They also agreed that year and in all the following to allocate six mills as support funding to the hospital. 

By statute, the district is allotted three mills. By vote, the district can be allotted up to six mills and this year, as happens every four years, the mill levy increase for the district is on the ballot. The district is one of many public entities that utilize mill levy funding as part of their operating budgets. Per the Niobrara county treasurer, the following mill levies are currently paid by county property owners:

• State School Foundation 12.000

• County General Fund 10.270

• County Library Fund 1.330

• County Fair Fund 0.400

• County School Levy 6.000

• School District Operating Levy 25.000

• Recreation 1.000

• Hospital District 6.000

• Soil Conservation District 1.000

• Rural Fire District 3.000

• Weed and Pest District 1.000

• Special Management Program 1.000

• Senior Citizen’s Service District 1.000

• Town of Lusk General Fund 8.000

• Town of Manville General Fund 8.000

As with most of the taxing entities, the financial success of the hospital is dependent on the continued support of tax payers in the county. According to CEO Dana Gilleland, while the hospital has made great strides in fiscal solvency and working to establish consistent services, the volatile nature of both health care and health care financing, particularly in the last five years makes renewal of the hospital mill levy more crucial than ever.

The Niobrara Community Hospital is a designated “Critical Access Hospital” which means they receive reimbursement for services from the federal government via ongoing evaluation of cost verses income. As the hospital becomes more financially successful that cost reimbursement decreases. Since the funding does not come in on a “real time” basis this can lead to massive fluctuations in the operating finances of the hospital. The mill levy allows the hospital to have consistent and continued operating cash for day to day expenses.

During a recent informational meeting held at the fairgrounds, several individuals representing the hospital and health clinic spoke to the need for continuing support of the hospital through the passing of the mill levy initiative. It was greatly emphasized that this is not an increase from what has been assessed for the last seventeen years, but does require a ballot initiative with a yes vote to pass.

Dr. Joleen Falkenburg, clinic medical director, family practice physician and emergency room doctor addressed those gathered regarding her experiences over the last eight years as a medical provider in the Niobrara community. She discussed the importance of having a facility that is “more than a band aid station.” She stated, “Living in a ranching community we only think of life or death but there is a lot of in-between and that’s what we deal with at our hospital and clinic.” Timing is everything and even in the last year brain and cardiac tissue has been saved for better quality of life and recovery by having the facility doors open and fully operational. Every year the clinic and hospital have continued to build on services offered and create a continuity of care with consistent providers from the clinic to the ER to swing bed services and Prairie Pines facility. She stated that a strong medical entity is just as important as a stable and strong school system for the success of community.

Medical Director Dr. Jake Beringer, who has been with NCH for six years also spoke to the need for continued support of the facility. In addition to speaking to the positive role the hospital has played in the care of COVID patients and others, Beringer also spoke bluntly to those gathered, “In this life you get what you pay for and if you don’t pay for the hospital, it won’t be here when you need it.” 

The district utilizes all funding available from ARPA funds recently offered to a specialty excise tax several years ago that was used for capital improvements. The hospital auxiliary routinely conducts fund raisers to assist with special projects and purchases. Gilleland discussed the specific improvements in billing collections over the last two years. When Gilleland started the hospital was at 57% collection and is now consistently collecting 97% of all charges. This has taken a lot of work and change but they are committed to doing things the right way. Even with these improvement in services and efficiency the mill levy is needed for the months when volumes are down so that all services can continue to be fully operational. 

Voters with questions are welcome to contact board members or Gilleland with any questions. The board, auxiliary and staff all encouraged those present to spread the word and “vote yes” to the hospital on November 8.

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