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December 15, 2017

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‘It’s tragic’: Tonopah’s only hospital closes

Updated Friday, Aug. 21, 2015 | 5 p.m.

The Nye Regional Medical Center, the only hospital in a 100-mile radius, closed at noon today, leaving rural residents worried about how they will receive care.

Based in Tonopah, a mining town halfway between Las Vegas and Reno, the 10-bed hospital provided emergency and inpatient care as well as laboratory, radiology, respiratory and outpatient services.

Wayne Allen, CEO of the Nye Regional Medical Center, issued a letter Wednesday announcing the closure of the hospital, blaming prolonged financial struggles. An outpatient clinic will close at 5 p.m. Sept. 4, he said.

Emergency medical responses, such as ambulances, are not affected.

“The hospital operations cannot be sustained any longer with expenses greater than revenues,” Allen wrote in the letter. “In an effort to save the hospital, we have tried to arrange partnerships/affiliations with other health care organizations. These efforts have been unsuccessful due to our small size and remote location. We are out of options, time and funding.”

Nye County Emergency Manager Vance Payne released a memo this afternoon detailing procedures to mitigate some of the impact of the hospital closure. The county's Office of Emergency Management has worked out transportation agreements with service providers in neighboring counties and states to accommodate daily needs, he said.

Life Guard Air Ambulance services has brought in another plane, doubling its air ambulance capability for the area, Payne said. In addition, Nye County has reached agreements with two California counties — Inyo and Nevada — to meet ambulances halfway to cut patient-transport times and is negotiating with Humboldt General Hospital for another mutual aid ambulance crew.

"Our No. 1 priority is to ensure the long-term safety to the residents of this community," he wrote. "To support this initiative, we have implemented the most efficient and effective plan to reach that goal."

Unlike in metropolitan areas, where numerous private-practice doctors serve the population, residents in Tonopah — with a population just shy of 2,500 residents in 2010 — relied on the medical center for their health care, said Joan Hall, CEO of Nevada Rural Hospital Partners, an alliance of small hospitals serving 346,500 residents in the state.

There are no standalone clinics or paramedics in the town, but Tonopah does have a volunteer emergency medical services group, Hall said. The closest hospitals to Tonopah are in Hawthorne (103 miles northwest) and Bishop, Calif. (116 miles west). Tonopah is 211 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

“It’s tragic,” Hall said. “Nationally, we’re seeing more and more rural hospitals close.”

Fifty-three rural hospitals across the United States have closed since 2010, eliminating emergency and primary care for residents, she said.

Prime Care Nevada Inc., the parent company of Nye Regional Medical Center, filed for bankruptcy in 2013, the Pahrump Valley Times reported. Several months later, in May 2014, a federal bankruptcy judge removed Dr. Vincent Scoccia from his role as the hospital’s CEO after Nye County accused him of mismanagement and paying his own interests.

Tonopah residents have been aware of the hospital’s financial struggles — and efforts to overcome them — for several years, but Hall suspects most didn’t worry about an imminent closure. “It’s always a struggle,” she said. “Sometimes you get so used to struggling, you don’t think there is any inevitable coming.”

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