“I don’t mean to cry wolf, but we’re not set up to take care of more than one acutely sick person.”
Dr. Mark Clark made those remarks at the New Shoreham Town Council’s work session on Wednesday, Aug. 1, noting that the Block Island Medical Center’s trauma room is “obsolete and inadequate.” Clark said due to increased demand at the Medical Center, a physical expansion or upgrade of the facility, and its helipad, are needed.
“I think the community needs to decide the level of health care that they’re willing to accept,” said Clark. “I don’t think the level of health care out here should be any different than it is on the mainland.”
Clark’s comments were part of a Town Council information exchange meeting, which included the Block Island Housing Board. The Council is holding meetings with its boards and departments to address needs and budgetary concerns. First Warden Ken Lacoste was not in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting.
Town Council members, led by Councilor Chris Willi, asked Clark why the term “unsustainable” has been used to categorize the Medical Center’s financial state of affairs. “I have questions,” said Willi. “The Medical Center has added a lot of staff. And from what I’ve read, the operation of the Medical Center is not sustainable. So I’m glad you’re here to explain it. What does that mean?”
“What’s your long-term projection — your five or 10 year operational plan?” added Willi. The town allocates $260,000 annually in its operating and capital budget for the Medical Center.
“That’s a good question,” said Clark, who is also the Medical Director at the Medical Center. “Is it going to be sustainable? I don’t know.”
The thought of “not being sustainable is interesting to me, because in the history of the Medical Center, from the beginning, it’s never been sustainable,” noted Clark. “You get about half in patient revenues, and with the other half, you get a quarter of that from donations, and the rest comes from the town. That proportion has never, ever changed. That’s been the way it’s been.”
Cindy Baute, President of the Block Island Health Services Board, said, “Health care is very expensive. In the State of Rhode Island, as far as hospitals go, there is only one hospital that is in the black. All the rest are in the red.” Baute said she speaks from experience, having worked in the health care fiefd for most of her life.
Clark noted that the Medical Center pays to lease the Thomas Property for housing its employees.
Clark said there has been a “misunderstanding” regarding the amount of staff that is employed at the Medical Center.
“Some of these are part-time people. Why are we hiring all of these people? It is literally impossible to provide health care, and all the layers, and everything that goes along with it, without the help. And everyone is working at full capacity,” said Clark. “So, the question is; how do you pay for our volume?”
“You have to be creative,” said Willi, noting the challenge of meeting a five-year projection. “I agree with you. Why should Block Island have to settle for less than the mainland.”
Councilor Sven Risom said dialogue with the Medical Center is productive, and the town and Town Council need to determine the “critical social need” for supporting increased medical service on the island.
“That means cost. So, if the town, the Town Council, and the community, truly want those services then we all need to chip in. And it may come to where the town says no, ‘We really can’t afford that.’ But I think we really need to step up as a town, and say we’re willing to chip in more, or not,” said Risom
Councilor André Boudreau encouraged the Medical Center staff to continue the dialogue, and keep coming to the Town Council with its projects and needs.
“I think you’re doing what you can with what you have. We’ll do what we can on our end,” he said. “You’re going in the right direction. I personally support your initiatives.”