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Because there is a hospital in town …

TVH 1939

Teton Valley Hospital, 1939

There is an iconic image, central to the development of Teton Valley, that surfaces from time to time in historical reviews. A crowd of well-dressed citizens stands in front of a building faced with stone cut in the rock mills that once operated in the Victor area. Everyone is smiling—for good reason. The year is 1939. For the first time ever, there is a hospital in town.

The young man in the foreground wearing a light colored suit has particular reason to smile. Not many years earlier, he suffered a near fatal bout with pneumonia—a struggle made worse by the fact his treatment occurred far from home. He seemed to do better when the pretty young girl he’d had his eye on for some time was there by his side—not always easy, given the logistics of travel from “the basin” to the lower valley in that era. The young’s man is Merle Kunz. His helpmate during that period, whom he would soon marry, is Maureen Tonks. In time the pair would become my mother- and father-in-law. The smile visible in that picture is a manifestation of the assurance felt by all who gathered that day. Life will be better. There is a hospital in town.

Jump ahead a couple decades. The year is 1959. Another young man has just returned to his birthplace. Donald Coburn fulfills a lifelong dream. He has just purchased the valley’s only pharmacy from J.H. Harper—a business that owes its viability to one simple fact: There is a hospital in town.

Now jump ahead a few more years. My parents closed up shop and made a quick trip “out below” to complete some necessary business, leaving a younger brother in my care. My brother fell off our trampoline and fractured both forearms. We walked a half block and found Doctor LaGrande Larsen just closing up shop. He assessed the situation, then applied two plaster casts. We were both back home when the folks returned. All because there was a hospital in town.

Kelley Coburn

Kelley Coburn,
TVHC Pharmacist

Not long after that, a friend who was aware of my interest in everything that creeped, crawled, or flew entrusted me with a broken-winged owl found while disking a pasture. There wasn’t a veterinarian in town during that era. The solution was obvious: There was a new physician in town, Dr. Kitchener Head. I showed up in the hospital waiting room with a very disgruntled owl under my arm. Dr. Head treated his feathered patient’s wounds. The owl lived for some time. All because there was a hospital in town.

A couple decades later I became the hospital’s first fulltime pharmacist. A red-letter week occurred soon after when my two oldest daughters gave birth to two daughters over a three day interval. There was a moment during that joyful, hectic period of family expansion when I was given charge of a young grandson. I took him to my workspace and began explaining my duties—reviewing orders, repackaging medications, etc., only to be cut short by a 3-year-old’s succinct observation: “I get it. You’re a slave.” A precious memory that hinged on the fact that there was a hospital in town.

In time another young man, fresh from medical school arrived in town: Dr. Chad Horrocks. One of my daughters became his nurse. One of his patients was troubled by symptoms that might possibly be mitigated by the in-home use of an expensive medical unit. Unfortunately, the patient’s family lacked the means to purchase the needed equipment. Dr. Horrocks was convinced a solution could be found. He asked my daughter Amanda to do some discreet checking around the community. In short order the needed funds were raised. All because there was a hospital in town.

Beginning over 76 years ago, each generation has ensured that the next generation would have the security and privilege of having a hospital nearby, staffed with people who can deliver the best care possible every day, every night, year after year. National Health Care Week is May 8 – 14. We thank our community for making it this week-long recognition relevant to Teton Valley. Because we have a hospital in town.


Change at what cost?

Keith Gnagey

Keith Gnagey, TVHC CEO

It’s interesting when you read about a situation you think you know well and see it presented in a way that is quite different from your viewpoint. Such were my thoughts in reading County Commissioner Leake’s op-ed in the April 28 edition of the Teton Valley News. I’ve been focused on how the current hospital/fire team can deliver ambulance service and how we can make that better. We’re doing that today in the second year of our third consecutive five-year contract. We believe that our approach is delivering high quality ambulance service to the community.

Commissioner Leake is leading the charge to examine what changes should be made regarding how the county provides ambulance service. At TVHC, we are not opposed to change; we embrace reviewing existing programs and identifying areas in need of improvement. However, we are concerned about the direction of change and the potential abruptness of the ambulance change. Our doctors have stated that the current system is better for overall community health and safety than the systems proposed by the Teton County Fire Protection District. As an organization, we have stated that the proposed change would diminish the quality of care that we currently have and that it would hurt the hospital now and in the future. Nationally, EMS services are becoming more and more clinical; transferring services from the hospital to fire goes against that trend. And the varying cost projections in the numerous fire proposals lead us to question whether the cost to taxpayers would in fact be any less than it is now.

The fire proposals are not joint fire/hospital team proposals; they are proposals for fire to run most or all of the ambulance service. They were not developed by the fire district working with the hospital, as was our current contract. None of TCFPD’s proposals include the quality measures the hospital has put into place to track and improve on the service we provide. The proposals also omit hospital EMS training that we feel is critical.

Making the changes proposed by fire would be risky; the county commissioners would be betting on unproven costs, unproven staffing plans, unproven training and quality processes, and unknown governance issues.

At TVHC, we don’t believe these changes are necessary or financially responsible. There are no spending shortfalls; we operate within the agreed-upon budget. We should make the current fire/hospital team better, not eliminate it. In the end, however, it is the citizens of Teton Valley who need to make that call for themselves, and then to express their opinions to their elected County Commissioners. I would encourage you to consider: If someone proposed they could save you and your family money, and then quoted three different prices to do that work, would you then give them a blank check?

The BOCC (acting as the ASD) will meet Monday, May 9 to discuss the future of ambulance services in Teton Valley. Let your voice be heard. Contact your county commissioners and let them know where you stand on the delivery of critical emergency services in the valley. You can find phone and email information (as well as meeting information) at the county website, tetoncountyidaho.gov. As always, you can find up-to-date information on EMS services in Teton Valley at tvhcare.org/ems-teton-valley.


This article appeared as an editorial in the May 5, 2016 edition of the Teton Valley News.