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Southwest Health CEO talks about workforce attrition, regulatory burdens

Joe Theine is the CEO of Southwest Health System.
Joe Theine works to add physicians in Cortez and Mancos

While retention issues persist, the Southwest Health System is working to bolster its workforce, CEO Joe Theine told Montezuma County leaders on Tuesday, including adding health care professionals in Cortez and Mancos.

Nearly one in every five Southwest Health System staffers or bedside nurses has left in the past year, Theine said at the Montezuma County Board of County Commissioners meeting. He said the attrition rate was in line with the national average for both professions.

“This is not a unique challenge for us,” he added. It “comes at a cost of culture. When people are coming in and out of the organization, it’s not as seamless in terms of how people work together.”

The labor issues are also resulting in increased costs, according to Theine, who was appointed CEO in July. For example, the average cost to discharge a patient in the U.S. was about $4,000 in 2019. As of March 2022, it had jumped to $5,400.

“I only assume that that’s gone up and not gone down over the last year,” Theine said.

Along with expanding the number of physicians and nurse practitioners at the Mancos Valley Clinic, Southwest Health System added a new physician assistant in Cortez.

Southwest Health has 16 active applications for physicians or advanced practice providers, according to Theine, while six have accepted offers. A new family medicine physician will start in fall 2024, he said, and a new physician in training has agreed to practice in the area in 2025.

“With the addition of those primary care providers, if a patient needs to be seen or establish care with a new provider, we can typically get somebody in to see one of our providers within one to two weeks,” said Theine.

While Southwest Health System has served roughly 50% of the county population, according to Theine, it has begun tracking patients who leave the area for services to address any barriers to receiving care locally.

Another drag on operations is the need to comply with many new federal and state regulations. For example, Colorado has enacted 368 laws in the past few years that have impacted Southwest Health System, said Thein.

“That’s just a lot of work just to be able to track and understand what we need to be able to do, and then ultimately stay in compliance,” he said. “Some of those things are really positive. Some are duplicative with what's happening on the federal side. But it all takes work to understand and comply.”

Theine also touted new transparency measures, including an updated website with financial disclosures and other information, following requests from the “community and the commissioners to make more of the information available to the public.”

“Our board meetings have always had a public component. And it’s been really heartening to see a number of members from the public showing up to our meetings,” Theine told The Journal.