By Teresa Holloway
Adoption of the 2015-2016 budget and the $0.15 per $100 valuation 2015 tax rate, a progress report on the air ambulance service and reports on Houston County Medical Center (HCMC) operations were on the agenda of the Tuesday, Sept. 22 Houston County Hospital District (HCHD) Board of Directors meeting.
In response to HCHD President Larry Christopher's request for public comment on the tax rate and budget, Houston County resident Bobby Bowlin addressed the board.
"Everyone in Houston County knows we have to a hospital to make things work, and everyone knows we need the tax rate hike to make the hospital work," he said.
"It seems like negotiations with ETMC have been ongoing for two or two and a half years," Bowlin said.
"So my question is; Why did the board wait so long to raise taxes? Why were you not preparing for this a year or two ago? Raising taxes a little at a time instead of all at once," he asked.
Christopher addressed Bowlin, "To raise taxes, you have to prove need. Before the lease with ETMC was over, we were sitting on over $3 million," he said. "It would have been rather hard to justify a tax increase at that time," he said.
"Also, I'd like to point out that we were looking at the transition even before it was begun. We had our cash, but we also had a situation under the contract that is in litigation... so I have to be pretty careful how I say this... but it (the situation) had the potential where ETMC owed us $2.4 million dollars," Christopher added. "We have yet to get that money."
(Christopher spoke with the Courier editor after the meeting and clarified there is no new lititgation between the HCHD and ETMC. He said he was referencing the last unresolved piece of the original law suit.)
Christopher further said to Bowlin, "Our budget without the tax increase is sitting at a $1.5 million annual loss. Of that, we are also projecting $3.5 million of indigent care."
The $3.5 million in care will be owed by Houston County taxpayers regardless of where in the State of Texas the indigent treatment is rendered, explained Christopher.
"So we are talking about a 15 cent (per $100 valuation) tax rate for indigent care, air ambulance, emergency room, OB/GYN, physical therapy, occupational therapy, (ambulance service, rural health clinic) and the hospital with all the staff," he said.
"And for a 15 cent tax, I think that's a pretty good deal," Christopher said.
"We are in the bottom of the tax rates for the state, and we are providing all this for the 15 cents (per $100 valuation)," Christopher said.
"The citizens of Houston County have to support the hospital to make it work. We are just like any other company. We are open for business, but if everybody goes somewhere else then we are not going to be viable," he continued.
With no other members of the public choosing to address the issue, the HCHD board unanimously voted to adopt the 2015-16 budget.
The board also unanimously voted to adopt the 15 cent per $100 valuation tax rate.
In other business, Prosperity Bank was approved as the new home of HCMC operating accounts and lockbox. The appointed signers are interim HCMC CEO Gary Kendrick, HCHD Board President Larry Christopher, HCHD Secretary Barbara Crowson, HCHD Vice President Dr. John Stovall and HCMC Chief Financial Officer Richard Wallace.
Director of Rehabilitation Katherine Curless has been appointed as the new Compliance Officer for HCMC.
Curless outlined the mission of the Compliance Department, and said she intends for the department to present quarterly reports to the board.
While compliance procedures fulfill legal requirements, Curless stressed the procedures serve to emphasize and highlight excellent customer service and employee/employer relations.
"Have you had any customer surveys yet?" HCHD Board Member Robert Grier asked Curless.
Kendrick answered Grier and explained the new survey process, "We are trying to develop an interface with a company called HealthStream. The company will conduct telephone surveys of patients who have used the emergency department, or the inpatient/outpatient departments. The company will report the results of the surveys to HCMC once monthly."
Kendrick went on to speak on staffing efforts by his department, "I've been talking to a cardiologist. He has some interest in where we are now," Kendrick continued with the CEO report.
"Every other Tuesday, Dr. Cecolli comes here to see patients... I talked to Dr. Cecolli today, and he doesn't have a problem at all having the additional cardiologist," he said.
"Dr. Cecolli told me, 'What's good for the hospital is good for me, too.'" Kendrick said.
Stovall asked if the second cardiologist is an invasive cardiologist, and Kendrick answered, "No, he's not."
"Dr. Lucas, the family practice resident that worked here in the past - I have just received from the consultants two letters of intent. These let him know we are very interested in him coming," Kendrick said. "I received those letters today, and I will be sending them to him tomorrow. I know he will have other offers, but he seems interested in pursuing something with us."
"Dr. Lucas and Dr. Hurlburt know each other from residency," Kendrick said.
Kendrick also reported the floors at HCMC will get a face-lift. He told the board a professional cleaning company will come in and strip and rewax the floors. The work will be done at night, to prevent patient disruptions, he said.
Accreditation efforts are underway, and Chief Nursing Officer Lucy Norris and her team are focused on preparing the hospital for the inspection to earn that accreditation.
Kendrick told the board that once AirEvac is in place, they will begin marketing the service. Tentatively the price is set at $65 per family, per year.
"The website is underway. There are a few loose ends that need to be tied up," but it will soon be operational, according to Kendrick.
Grier told the board that he would like to see several more town meetings, and the board expressed its agreement. Plans to conduct these meetings will begin soon.