The posturing of county politicians


The CAH is not dead. I’ll repeat that: The CAH is not dead.

But to be honest, I’m not terribly concerned whether it’s the CAH or some other option that plugs the massive holes in the Rural Health Care District’s (RHCD) bleeding budget. But something needs to be done, and it needs to be done yesterday.

Call me an eternal optimist, but I’m hoping cooler heads prevail in this whole thing, despite the shortage of collaborative leadership in the county and the political posturing that defined last Wednesday night’s meeting.

If ever there was an exercise in futility, that meeting was it. No question, the commissioners were well rehearsed and their final vote was already decided before the meeting even began (I’ll naively assume their dress rehearsals did not involve an illegal quorum of coordination). It appeared they even had Doc Johnston cued up for his own spiel of support for their cause.

“Is that what you wanted to hear?” he asked the commissioners after he finished his soliloquy to the crowd.

The grand irony of Doc Johnston’s opposition to this whole thing is found in an old Pinedale Roundup article that detailed his departure from Sublette County back in July 1965.

“I hate to leave, but it is just too trying to attempt to practice good medicine without a hospital,” Johnston states in the article.

Sounds eerily similar to Dr. Kappenman’s current struggle – and that of other medical professionals – some 52 years later.

But to act like the commissioners wanted to hear from CAH supporters was an offense to the sensibilities of most everybody in that room. And that point was underscored by the crowd’s reaction when Commissioner Rawhouser made his abrupt motion. People were deeply offended by a motion that was a slap in the face of nearly all the public comment that evening, when person after person pleaded with the commissioners to move forward with the CAH.

The vote was taken as a big middle finger to nearly all who spoke – though I think it was a gesture intended for the RHCD, in particular.

When the RHCD board chair came in April 4 and gave the commissioners an ultimatum – deed the land or give permission to build – well, I knew trouble was on the horizon. Retaliation was imminent. And we saw it unfold last Wednesday night.

Both sides of the debate can take full ownership of last week’s debacle. And it was just that. I’ve never seen a crowd erupt with such fury at a group of elected officials.

What’s worse, the commissioners did not even need to take that vote. It was little more than a symbolic gesture, given the “at this time” addendum. They could have very easily feigned interest in public comment, thanked the crowd for sharing their input, and adjourned the meeting. Instead, they were compelled to let the RHCD – and CAH supporters – know who’s the boss, who’s the ultimate authority ‘round these parts … little doubt, a prearranged flex of power. And all this, despite the fact that the district board chair said April 4 that the district was willing to wait on a decision, so long as it didn’t “drag on another year.”

But the RHCD backed them into that corner. The district gave the commissioners an excuse to flex by pressuring the decision. You don’t give ultimatums like that – especially to county commissioners – even if you want to, even if you feel it’s warranted. But they, too, couldn’t help themselves.

Adding salt to the wound, the RHCD is unwilling to share its “other avenues available to us,” in the event the commissioners aren’t willing to concede. Last I checked, the RHCD is taxpayer-funded, beholden to the voters and citizens of Sublette County to be transparent in its dealings, regardless of the political posturing and grade-school games it wants to play with the commissioners. The public, for starters, has an absolute right to know what’s being discussed for the future options of health care in the county.

And the RHCD’s list of supplies, which was requested April 4 by the commissioners, was a joke as well. Don’t tell me you didn’t have enough time to put it together. It was a half-hearted excuse of a list that in no way demonstrated a real desire to fulfill the request.

So we, the public, are left to watch two sides sitting around playing poker, both keeping cards up their respective sleeves, seeing who blinks, who bluffs, all the while using the health care of the citizens as the gambling chips. The whole thing is a disheartening display.

At the end of the day, last week’s special meeting was the very definition of political posturing, and by both sides. The commissioners can go away feeling like they showed the RHCD who’s boss. The RHCD can go away feeling like the perpetual victim, how ever self-imposed it may be. And please believe, the district is poised to retaliate with some drastic actions of its own.

Meanwhile, the threat to quality health care in Sublette County continues to grow as this fight gets dragged on and the debate continues its digression. The people of Sublette County are the only real losers in this nonsense. The medical services are in decline, and I fear that decline will only get steeper after watching that meeting unfold.

Another headline ran in May 1965 that says it all: “Capacity Crowd out to Hear Plans for a County Hospital.” The article finished by saying that “a vote was taken of those wishing to go ahead with plans for a hospital and an overwhelming majority voted yes.”

It seems Sublette County really is a step back in time to yesteryear. In many ways, that’s a good thing. But when it comes to county leadership and the state of health care in Sublette County, not so much.

I can’t say I look forward to bartering the Crane chickens for medical services that entail little more than a Band-Aid and some Neosporin. A step back to yesteryear, indeed.

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