Billings Clinic feasibility study underway; WIA requesting funding for independent study

Big Sky Weekly Staff Writer

BOZEMAN – Bozeman Deaconess Health Services has completed a new feasibility analysis for a medical center facility in Big Sky, updating its previous study from 2009.

The findings from the BDHS study reveal the growth rate of the permanent population, combined with increases in seasonal population, employment base, and economic activity demonstrate that the Big Sky area market has rebounded and is poised for further growth, according to a press release.

“Stabilized market and economic indicators have had a positive impact on feasibility outcomes that favorably support development and sustainability of a medical facility in the near future,” the release stated.

BDHS is proposing a 33,000–35,000-square-foot facility that would serve the Big Sky and south Gallatin County communities. The medical center would be constructed on a lot in the Big Sky Town Center, which BDHS purchased in 2007.

“The timing is right for development of a hospital in Big Sky, and we feel Bozeman Deaconess Health Services is the right partner for the Big Sky community,” said Kevin Pitzer, BDHS CEO, in a press release.

BDHS projected the facility would initially add an estimated 30 jobs to the local economy.

Billings Clinic is also conducting a feasibility study for a more advanced medical center in Big Sky, but that study will not be released for at least another week, according to Billings Clinic Community Relations Director Jim Duncan. That hospital last completed a feasibility study for a medical center in Big Sky in 2012.

Stroudwater and Associates conducted the study for Bozeman Deaconess Hospital, and by ECG conducted Billings Clinic’s.

Led by Big Sky resident and former hospital administrator Jack Eakman, the local social services nonprofit, Women in Action, is requesting Big Sky Resort Tax money to fund an independent feasibility study for a critical access hospital.

“We believe that both hospitals will be using their information to garner market share from Big Sky rather than open the information to each other and to the community for the Big Sky community’s own benefit,” Eakman wrote in an email to the resort tax board on May 21. “It is not because there are bad people with bad intentions involved, it is just because that is how the system has worked for many decades. Their institutional need to further their own interests will drive their actions and behaviors.”

The WIA study, “if necessary, would be a community study; funded by the community through resort tax, heard by the community through open meetings, and lead to recommended improvements as the community sees fit,” Eakman continued.

BDHS plans to host an informational town hall meeting in the near future, in which it will outline the scope and timeline for its proposal and answer questions from community members.