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With Its New Hospital, Rural Utah Gets A Fancy EMR (And A Sacred Hogan)

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, September 30, 2009

The hospital also has brought together historical enemies, the Utes and the Navajos, who sit on the hospital's board. "This is very unique situation to bring the Utes and Navajos together on a common cause," MacKay says. "They used to fight all the time, and did not trust each other. Now they are friendly."

But what is perhaps its biggest pride is a brand new electronic medical record system, an adaptation of a free "open source" program developed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs . The system was installed and expanded with billing templates and other interfaces to meet Blue Mountain's needs by Medsphere, a Carlsbad-based company, at a cost of about $300,000 to $400,000, says MacKay.

Even in the first two months as staff are getting used to the new system, Evans says EMR is already saving a lot of time.

"There was one day when we had a high census, and we were kind of short-staffed," she says. "We didn't have time to log on to every computer and every room. Instead, I could enter everything on one computer."

Charting the old way would have taken at least 30 minutes. Instead, she did it in less than 10.

MacKay hopes that some of the cost of the system will be defrayed by federal stimulus funds. But whether the hospital will receive it is still unclear.

The rest of the $18 million project funds come from a combination of financing through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Ute Mountain Tribe and Utah Navaho Health System.

The hospital has made it much more convenient for people in Blanding and surrounding areas to get hospital care. Before July 15, residents had to drive 25 miles north on winding, two-lane roads to Monticello's San Juan Hospital, a 50-year old facility. The road is also closed during many parts of winter, prohibiting even emergency access, MacKay says.

Staffing has been an issue, but MacKay has been able to hire adequately trained professionals from area clinics. There are about six or seven physicians on staff.

"Staffing has not been the easiest thing to deal with. But now, I'd say we have enough providers, although we're still looking for a general surgeon and an internist, and another good nurse or two," MacKay says.

MacKay acknowledges that most of San Juan Hospital's patients are now coming to Blue Mountain. "We're getting about one new admission each day," he says. And the average daily census after 78 days is about three patients.


Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
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