St. John’s Medical Center is coming to Lander.
The expansion over Togwotee Pass is an extension of services the hospital already provides in the Fremont County town. Specialists in areas like cardiology and urology already make the three-hour trek on an intermittent basis, but they have to use facilities provided by physicians who practice full-time there.
Opening a clinic is meant to streamline services the specialists offer and improve patient experience by creating a centralized location.
“It’ll be modeled like how we run our specialty clinics when people come up from the University of Utah,” St. John’s CEO Paul Beaupre said.
Anyone who has used the doctors who travel to St. John’s from Salt Lake City know that they come on a specific day each week or month, depending on their frequency. All their patients come in that day, which gives providers and patients consistency.
The Lander clinic will be downtown, at 75 N. 1st St., near the Lander Chamber of Commerce and Wild Iris Mountain Sports. It will have a nurse practitioner, a clinic assistant, a front-desk person and a billing agent, along with the rotating cast of specialists. The soft opening will be Oct. 28, with a grand opening Nov. 4.
St. John’s physicians have been heading to Lander for years, said Director of Patient Experience and Volunteer Services Blair Christy.
“Our opportunity is to support a community that is already seeking services at St. John’s,” she said.
Beaupre said a coalition of roughly 40 medical providers approached the hospital and asked if it would send specialists to Lander, hoping to address gaps the doctors saw in health care in the town.
For at least six years, plastic surgeon Dr. John Payne has been practicing there, but the range of specialists has expanded recently.
As St. John’s expands its services to Lander, especially with the clinic opening, it places itself in direct competition with the hospital that already serves that community, SageWest, which also has facilities in Riverton.
“We’re hoping it’s synergistic,” Beaupre said. “It is not our intention to compete with that hospital. At the same time, if 40 providers, some of whom are midlevel providers, say, ‘We need your help,’ we would be stupid to ignore that.”
The News&Guide reached out to SageWest, but its administrators were unable to comment by press time.
Besides simply making life easier for its physicians, expanding to Lander is an important fiscal step for St. John’s, Beaupre said. The U.S. Census Bureau puts Teton County’s population at around 24,000, but Beaupre said that for St. John’s to maintain its level of service and number of specialists, the population it serves would have to be closer to 100,000.
Expanding into regional markets, including Lander and Sublette County, should help cover the difference between those population numbers and give providers enough patients to be profitable.
“We’re not at a critical mass that would support the hospital at the level of services that many want us to be at,” Beaupre said.
To ensure the people of Lander know St. John’s is opening the clinic, hospital administrators are planning events in the fall and winter that will let patients meet the doctors, similar to ones held at The Wort Hotel when new providers are hired for the Jackson facility, Christy said. Though some patients already know St. John’s provides the services there, hosting events like the hospital’s “Dinner with a Doc” events will be an important step if St. John’s is to build its client base.
Building a new clinic isn’t a guaranteed moneymaker. Like any business would, St. John’s hopes the new venture will make money, but the main intent is to break into the Lander market. Beaupre called it a “break-even opportunity,” so even if it doesn’t make money the chance to expand the number of St. John’s patients may well be worth it.