Rib Lake questions when Aspirus clinic will reopen
The Rib Lake Village Board at its February 10 meeting heard concerns from a small group of area residents about the Rib Lake Clinic being closed.
Doug Polacek told the board the clinic has been in the village a long time and is 200 feet away from a nursing home. He said the school and a large number of people in the area used the clinic and he wondered what they had to do to get the clinic re-opened. “Do we have to petition Aspirus to get this going?” Polacek asked. “Aspirus has been out buying hospitals all over the place and yet they don’t have any money or what’s the deal with the clinic?” He went on to say it was an important issue, not only for the village board, but for the school board and all the town boards in the area to see what they can do — if anything — about the clinic being closed. Polacek added as a member of the business development foundation, it’s also very important to fight to keep every business in the community open, including the clinic.
Rollie Thums said he has spoken to some people in the county and while Aspirus may be buying hospitals up north, the hospital is hurting financially because there has not been any elective surgeries performed at the hospital since last March. “They’re losing revenue there and I think that’s part of why they closed down their satellites [clinics]. Why they closed down Rib Lake and not other satellites, that I have a problem with.”
Thums restated some of Polacek’s points, mentioning that the school district uses the clinic for athletic physicals, the nursing home can wheel the residents across the road for medical care and that there is a large population over 60 living in the area. “They have to travel to Medford, they have to travel to Prentice. I don’t think it’s in our best interest that the clinic stays closed.”
As what to do about it, Thums said he didn’t know. He asked if the president of the board needs to send a letter to Aspirus asking what was going on with the clinic.
Village president Bill Schreiner said the village has already done that. He said he has spoken with State Rep. James Edming and State Sen. Jerry Petrowski and that both of them had spoken with officials at the hospital. Schreiner said both told him they were told basically that same thing Thums had been told, that COVID-19 has put a hold on everything. Schreiner added he and trustee Russ Bullis have also spoken to the president and a board member at Aspirus Medford Hospital.
Bullis said he had Aspirus Medford Hospital board president for over an hour early in the day and it comes down to being a corporate decision, which are being made in Wausau. Bullis said he was told that the only clinic in Aspirus’ northwest regional network that is currently closed is Rib Lake, but that there are four or five other clinics in Aspirus’ network that are also closed.
Bullis said Aspirus thought when the COVID-19 pandemic started, the hospitals would be overrun with COVID patients. Bullis said he was told while Aspirus did have a large number of cases, there weren’t nearly as many cases as the hospital thought there would be. He said that was why many of the clinics were closed and the staff transferred to the hospitals. Bullis said the standard the hospital was looking at for now was for patients to be within a half-hour drive of an Aspirus facility.
Bullis told the group the village has been hearing complaints from people who have to drive up to Prentice for a blood draw which takes five minutes to perform. He said if anyone has been to the Prentice clinic, he felt the Rib Lake clinic was “nicer and bigger with more room.” Bullis mentioned there is also an Aspirus clinic in Phillips that was open and said in talking with the staff at Prentice, they will tell you if it wasn’t for the people from Rib Lake, there wouldn’t be anyone using the Prentice clinic.
Bullis said in talking with officials from Aspirus Medford Hospital, it was suggested that if the hospital couldn’t fully-staff the clinic five days a week, maybe try to have the clinic open two or three days a week.
Polacek said down the road, if the board doesn’t get a satisfactory answer, should the village then ask Marshfi eld hospital if it wants to open a clinic in Rib Lake?
Schreiner said he had mentioned to Aspirus if they plan on permanently shutting down the clinic to let the village know so they can ask Marshfield if it would be interested in opening a clinic in Rib Lake.
Village clerk Dawn Swenson asked Bob Carpenter, who had been a member of the hospital board, if a petition asking the hospital to re-open the clinic would work.
Carpenter replied it would help. He said he saw a photo in a magazine of a nurse holding up a sign that said ‘profits before patients’ and that was the trend among many hospitals today. Carpenter said he felt Aspirus was letting Rib Lake down. “What happened to their mission of service to people?” He said it wasn’t too long ago that Aspirus started a dialysis center, knowing there would be no profit for 10 years, but they did it so that people wouldn’t have to travel 70 or 80 miles to go to Marshfield. “And now they want us to do all the traveling and I think it’s just nuts. They should be listening to us and I think the more noise we make, the better off we are.”
The group thought a petition would be a good idea. “The four of us came in and we’re all concerned, but I’m sure there are hundreds of people in the village and in the townships that use that clinic that could be concerned about this,” Polacek said. “If that’s what it takes and it would help a little bit — I’ve talked to quite of few people in Westboro and Greenwood about it and they seem to talk the same way.”
Carpenter said he really believes Aspirus has an obligation to serve Rib Lake. He said Aspirus Medford Hospital is a non-profit organization and every year has to show what kind of benefit they provide to the community. “They have an obligation for service or they can’t be a non-profit. And here [Rib Lake clinic] they’re even making money, but even if they were losing money — even if it was a small amount like they were losing at the clinic in the past, they should still keep it open.”
Carpenter again said he felt a petition would help. He said public opinion was very important, especially to hospitals, and if hospitals see that opinion is against them, they respond to that to a large extent.
In wrapping up the discussion, Bullis said the official from Aspirus Medford Hospital he had spoken to earlier in the day offered to come to a board meeting. The trustees thought that was an excellent idea and Bullis said he would arrange it for the March meeting. In the meantime, the group decided to start a petition drive and possibly something to present to the Aspirus representative at the next meeting. Also during the meeting: Thums updated the board on the county’s broadband project. He said Taylor County was 71st out of 72 counties in the state in providing broadband service to its residents. Thums said the construction contract for the broadband project was signed on February 5 and a formal public announcement would be made on February 16. He said the network route would include 31 sites around the county, including county buildings, city of Medford city hall, town and village halls, libraries and schools.
In addition, Thums said the county has applied for grant funding to install fiber-optic cable to connect the multiple towers in the county to the network. He said signals are currently broadcast to the towers, which can be affected by the weather. The fiber cables would give the towers greater and faster capabilities, which the county plans to use to provide broadband service to people who do not live along the cable line.
Thums said the goal is to install the 75 miles of network fiber cable and have it up and operational by the end of the year.
“This is an investment in Taylor County,” Thums said as he finished his update. “We have multiple people that don’t buy homes here because they don’t have internet service. We have people who can’t work from home because they don’t have internet service. I think this is not going to drag us — it’s going to take us — into the 21st century.”
The board reviewed a proposed ordinance establishing fire protection charges. Bullis said the fire department charges a flat fee of $500 for each call the fire department responds to, whether it’s a fire or an accident. He said the clerk of the municipality where the fire call occurred would send the bill for the fire call to the individual involved and that individual would usually submit it to their insurance company for payment. Bullis said insurance companies have begun refusing to pay unless the municipality has an ordinance establishing those fire call fees. He said since the fire commission doesn’t have the authority to establish an ordinance, the village and townships within the fire district will have to pass such an ordinance.
The board reviewed a proposed ordinance handed out by Bullis and will take formal action at its March meeting.
The board approved a proposal for a library pavilion. Trustee Cliff Mann said the library has received donations from people over the years and the library committee has proposed construction of an open-air pavilion where the basketball court is by the library parking lot. He said the library holds many summer reading programs and often the children have to sit on wet grass or the damp bark on the playground and that the pavilion would be a nice addition for the library. Mann said the basketball courts would be moved, but the committee didn’t have a location in mind.
The board approved the Public Service Commission (PSC) disconnection plan. Swenson said when the COVID- 19 pandemic began, the PSC stopped municipalities from disconnecting people’s water and sewer, no matter how much their bills were.
She said there was a customer in the village who has not paid their water bill in over a year, but the village has not been able to shut off their water. Swenson said the PSC will begin letting municipalities disconnect a person’s water starting on April 15, but in order to do so, the PSC is requiring municipalities to fill out a survey as their disconnect plan, even if the municipality already has a plan. Swenson said although she’s the one required to fill out the survey, she wanted the board approval of it before submitting it to the PSC.