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Our View: Hi-Line feels abandoned by Benefis

Benefis Health System came into town with a bang a couple of years back when it opened the Havre branch of the Sletten Cancer Center.

The community donated several million dollars to get the cancer center built.

Community groups, businesses, even schoolchildren helped out in raising the funds for the building. Previously, people had to make the sometimes arduous journey to Great Falls to receive chemotherapy and radiation treatments. That's quite a trek for anybody in any weather, but it was especially bad for sick people who had to make the trip during the winter.

There was a real sense of community pride when the facility opened adjacent to Northern Montana Hospital.

That's why we were disappointed at the rather blasé attitude Benefis had when it announced rather matter-of-factly that it was pulling out of the deal with precious little notice to the community that worked so hard to help build the center.

Not enough people were coming down with cancer to meet Benefis' goals.

So, they packed up their bags and will be headed down Highway 87 back to Great Falls later this month.

Some people halfway through their treatments will have to find their own way to Great Falls to complete their therapy.

The facility has served people from as far away as Malta and Chester, and the Northern Montana Health Care Foundation was raising money to build apartments for use by people who have a hard time driving to Havre daily.

A dedicated group of Hi-Line residents was planning the fifth annual "Men who Cook for Women who Wine" event to raise money for the apartments. Now they've had the rug pulled out from under them.

The only excuse offered by Benefis was that there was a changing regulatory picture.

That is apparently in reference to proposed federal Department of Health and Human Services regulations that would have required an oncologist be present during all procedures. Rural hospitals have been fighting that proposal, and Sen. Jon Tester has been leading the fight against this silly idea.

The options left for Northern Montana Hospital and the Hi-Line community in the wake of the Benefis departure are limited — but the odds were stacked against us when the idea of building the center was first proposed. We've overcome difficulties in the past.

People who are stricken with cancer deserve the best possible treatment regardless of where they live. Bias against people living in rural communities is unacceptable.


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