By Joseph T. O’Connor Explore Big Sky Senior Editor
BIG SKY – It’s done. Or it appears to be. The sign on the Big Sky property Bozeman Deaconess Health Services purchased from Town Center declares it.
After seven contentious months spent discussing whether Bozeman Deaconess or Billings Clinic was better suited to provide a healthcare facility in Big Sky, BDHS has announced it is building a critical access hospital. And they’re going it alone.
On the morning of Aug. 20, Kevin Pitzer, CEO of BDHS, talked via phone with Billings Clinic CEO Dr. Nicholas Wolter.
“We spoke a few times over the last week to talk in response to the community’s wish to look at [whether] there are joint venture opportunities,” Pitzer said. “I told Dr. Wolter this morning that we didn’t feel it would be beneficial to continue those discussions.”
BDHS is now moving forward with a plan laid out in a May 2013 feasibility study performed by Maine-based Stroudwater Associates. The hospital plans to break ground in spring 2014, and “estimates a 24-month design and construction timeline,” according to the study.
Billings Clinic hired ECG Management Consultants to complete its feasibility study in June. Although Wolter would like to continue discussions with the Big Sky and West Yellowstone communities, he knows Big Sky can only hold one facility.
“The thought that there could be two critical access hospitals built, we don’t think that’s a good approach,” Wolter said. “We hoped we could at least talk about it. But the devil’s in the details. There are a number of steps between putting a sign up and building a facility.”
Beginning in May, both hospitals met with the Big Sky/West Yellowstone Healthcare Directions Committee – comprised of 28 residents from both communities, including six from West – to outline these steps and explain the details.
Throughout this process, Billings Clinic said it would abide by the committee’s recommendation as to which facility should build in Big Sky. BDHS never committed to this agreement.
Committee members say they believed both hospitals would abide by their recommendation, but a July 11 email from Pitzer to committee co-chair and former hospital administrator Jack Eakman indicated otherwise.
“Bozeman Deaconess will appreciate working with the committee, and [is] interested in results of the [recommendation], but that’s just one part of our planning process,” Pitzer wrote.
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