PINEDALE – The old ball fields on the hill next to the Pinedale Clinic, silent all summer, burst to life on Thursday, Aug. 25. Freshly mowed fields previously used for Little League games and adult softball tournaments opened for one final, historic event.
Community, county and state leaders, representatives from state and federal agencies and Sublette County Health and Sublette Center administrators lined up in front of the chain link fence, golden shovels ready to break ground and commence construction of the new critical access hospital and long-term care facility 100 years in the making.
Each individual behind the shovels represented untold hours of blood, sweat, tears and collaboration that brought a vision to improve health care in the community to fruition.
At least 700 people from across the county gathered in the bright evening sunlight to celebrate the groundbreaking, said Kari DeWitt, public relations director and grant writer for the Sublette County Hospital District (SCHD).
Food trucks and a massive bouncy house lined the perimeter of the ball fields. Following speeches by local and state leaders, Pinedale musician Jared Rogerson took to the stage to entertain the crowd.
SCHD Board Trustee Dave Bell welcomed members of the public and dignitaries to the festivities.
“There is a reason that we are here, and that is to dedicate and celebrate the groundbreaking of a new hospital,” he said.
Bell presented a framed wildlife photograph to SCHD staff member Kory Albert for submitting the winning name, Sublette County Health, in the district’s naming contest.
DeWitt thanked food vendors, Teletractors, Inc., the Pinedale Lions Club, Villanueva Rentals, 4-H Boulder Buckskins and Pinedale Fine Arts Council for their contributions to the ceremony. She expressed gratitude to Joan Mitchell and Ruth Steele for assisting with event planning.
DeWitt credited U.S. Senator and physician John Barrasso for playing a role in advancing the SCHD’s application with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
“He watched this application from its inception to its final stages,” DeWitt said.
A member of Barrasso’s staff, Sierra Brown, read a letter from the senator congratulating the SCHD for its “dedication” in achieving its goal of a hospital.
“After practicing medicine in Wyoming for over 20 years, I know first-hand the importance of ensuring access to critical services, like health care, in Wyoming,” Barrasso wrote. “I am looking forward to Sublette County joining the many other outstanding critical access hospitals serving our state.”
Glenn Pauley, the USDA’s state director for rural development, praised the community for its “ability to get things done.”
“A hospital is really a big deal for the community,” he said. “It not only increases the quality of life, but in emergency situations, it can be the difference between life and death.”
Local leaders at the mic
SCHD Board Chairwoman Tonia Hoffman delivered a heartfelt speech to the community gathered on the grass.
“This is truly such an exciting moment in our county’s history,” she said.
Hoffman described the journey to the groundbreaking as “one of profound personal challenge, reflection and growth.” She recognized change can be “intensely uncomfortable” and cause dissent and emphasized the necessity of finding a balance between positive growth and tradition.
“We can embrace progress and growth without letting it change us or the values that define us,” Hoffman said.
The groundbreaking opened a “new chapter” for residents in Sublette County, she added.
“I believe what we’ve come to celebrate is an opportunity to keep our loved ones closer during difficult times, an opportunity to strengthen the ability to sustain our communities and do so independently, an opportunity to create jobs that more of our young people will want to come home to, an opportunity for growth, but growth on our own terms.”
Hoffman gave a shoutout to fellow SCHD trustees – Bell, Wendy Boman, Kenda Tanner and Jamison Ziegler and the Sublette Center board of directors – Chairwoman Patty Racich, Nancy Guio, Marilyn Jensen, Kerry Majhanovich, Ruth Steele and Tanner.
She also thanked SCHD and Sublette Center employees and administrator Dave Doorn, state and federal legislators and elected officials, past and present boards of county commissioners, town governments, the USDA, Jeremy Hobbs and the Layton Construction team, Star Valley Health, the Sublette County Rural Health Care District (SCRHCD), Louann Heydt, Joan Mitchell and Hoffman’s family.
“Now let’s build a hospital!” Hoffman proclaimed.
Dave Doorn, SCHD administrator, took the microphone and recognized the “hard work” of multiple community members over the past years.
“Every step we took got us to this moment today,” he said.
Doorn thanked the county commissioners for jumpstarting the process to form a hospital district, the management team at Star Valley Health – CEO Dan Ordyna and COO Mike Hunsaker – for sharing staff and their “expertise” and the USDA.
Doorn recalled a visit by Gov. Mark Gordon to the Pinedale Clinic in July.
“Gov. Gordon came up to me and said, ‘Sublette County is finally ready for a hospital and a new nursing home.’” Doorn remarked. “I say, yes, we are ready for that.”
Dr. David Burnett, SCHD medical director, credited relationships across Sublette County for making the hospital a reality.
“Successful communities depend upon the relationships of those in their community,” he said. “Community spirit and strength are dependent on those working relationships. This project’s success will continue to depend on those relationships.”
Burnett channeled musician Sam Cooke’s song, “A Change is Gonna Come.”
“This groundbreaking today certainly has been a long time coming, but with the completion of this project, a change is going to come in our capabilities to meet and deliver the health-care needs of all our citizens in all our communities. As a county, we will succeed and we will grow stronger.”
Dawn Walker, Sublette Center administrator, compared the journey to bring a hospital and new long-term care facility to a teambuilding exercise she attempted to lead to Sacred Rim. The group took the wrong path and ended up at Photographer’s Point as night began to fall.
Upon reaching Photographer’s Point, Walker realized the view was “beautiful,” but not “life changing.”
The group “failed the mission almost entirely” and turned back. The team attempted the hike weeks later with a guide and successfully reached Sacred Rim.
“When we got to see that, that’s the thing that makes you stop and go, ‘Wow, this is beautiful, this is amazing, this is important. Not everybody gets to see this.’”
Walker felt the same emotions at the groundbreaking. Despite obstacles and detours along the way, the community achieved its goal.
“We’re up at the top,” Walker said. “We’re looking at something that has never been done before. I, myself, am so honored, and I know that the Sublette Center Board of Directors and the SCHD board are so honored that you have allowed us to see this vision. We are reaching new heights in health care together.”
County commission chairman Joel Bousman spoke next, recognizing previous commissioners for their involvement in the project.
He referred to a 1925 article in the Sublette Examiner outlining the need for a hospital.
“About a hundred years later, we finally got that to come to fruition,” he said.
The partnerships between the SCRHCD, SCHD and Sublette Center created a hospital district as “one health-care entity for the whole county.”
Bousman encouraged the community to support the “economic base” of Sublette County – energy, agriculture and recreation – that provides a majority of the revenue to fund the county and hospital district.
Rep. Albert Sommers had the last word.
“In a time when politics doesn’t seem to seek collaboration and solutions, I think what happened in Sublette County with this hospital is truly unique and truly wonderful. What could result from this is not only a successful story on how to collaborate in the community, but it shows young families they can live here in Sublette County and promote economic diversity and better living.”
DeWitt invited the Sublette Center Board, SCHD board and the commissioners to break ground with golden shovels, followed by the Star Valley management team, State Sens. Fred Baldwin and Dan Dockstader, Sommers, Mayor Matt Murdock, Doorn and Walker.