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SHERIDAN - Ruby Valley voters have OK'd a special mill levy that should shore up finances at Sheridan's Ruby Valley Hospital.

The levy, which will raise an estimated $240,000 a year, was approved by 61 percent of the voters who mailed ballots through the month of December. The final vote was 740 for the levy and 467 against.

A total 1,207 voters turned out, which is about 68 percent of the 1,775 registered voters in the Ruby Valley Hospital District.

"We knew this was going to be a tough deal for a lot of people," said Ruby Valley Hospital Administrator Gary Steinbach. "In places like Twin Bridges, where they are paying off a new school, there were some people who felt they were already paying too much in taxes."

"It's very humbling to go out and ask for money and when you get it, it's an awesome responsibility," Steinbach said. "Our goal is to live up to the expectations of our constituents."

The Ruby Valley Hospital has been struggling. Over the last two fiscal years, it lost $385,727 on net revenues of a little over $2.4 million. It couldn't afford equipment updates and nurses were leaving for areas with higher pay.

In response, the hospital's board developed a four-year strategic business plan in an effort to turn the situation around. Passage of the mill levy allows the board to move forward in implementing that strategy, said Steinbach.

The additional money will help the district pay down debt, replace radiology equipment and raise wages in hopes of retaining and attracting nurses.

Last year, the hospital spent about $120,000 paying traveling nurses to fill in. The hospital has lost five full-time registered nurses since 2000, in part because of better opportunities elsewhere.

Steinbach said the hospital and community would be better served by hiring people who would live in the area.

The additional funding from the levy will "solve some of the important problems that we face here," Steinbach said.

Even though the hospital district won't receive the new money until next November, efforts are underway to begin improving hospital services.

For instance, five nurses' assistants are completing a training program to help them become certified, which will allow those employees an opportunity for a pay raise and give patients a better level of service.

The hospital is also beginning a visiting specialists program. Three obstetricians from Dillon will set up a visiting practice in Sheridan starting this week.

And a local contractor has volunteered his crew to help refurbish all the hospital's inpatient rooms.

"It's a very good deal for us," said Steinbach.

The hospital district plans to give residents a quarterly update on how it's implementing the strategic plan.

"We want to be more accountable than we have been in the past," Steinbach said. "We feel like we owe that to our constituents."

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