By Alton Porter
Most Houston County residents can expect to pay close to the same amount in hospital taxes next year that they paid this year, thanks to the bylaws of the Houston County Hospital District (HCHD) and a vote taken by the district's board of directors at a regular meeting Tuesday, August 23.
The six board members present at the meeting – Robert Grier, Dr. Perry Ramsey, Tommy Driskell, Barbara Crowson, Larry Robbins and Deborah Blackwell – unanimously voted to pass a motion adopting the same tax rate for next year that was in effect this year – 15 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
The motion was offered by Grier and seconded by Crowson.
Board members Carol Dawson, Jim Dowell and Dr. John Stovall were absent.
In placing the matter before the board, Blackwell – recently elected president of the board – said, "A letter dated July 27 from (Houston County) Tax Assessor-Collector Danette Millican lets everybody know the 2015 value and rate are $1,097,976,750 (valuation) and our rate was 15 cents. So, last year, our assessed taxes were $1,646,965.13."
Blackwell added, "The 2016 value is actually down -- $1,075,661,890 – and our effective tax rate is (15.0762 cents).
That is the rate that would allow us to collect the same amount of taxes next year as we did this year."
She explained, however, "By our bylaws, we are not allowed to raise our taxes over 15 cents. So, that's our limit that will bring us $1,613,492.84 based on last year's rate. It's the rate we're limited to this year.
Another motion unanimously approved by the board requires the hospital district to pay the full amount of a subsidy for Lifeguard Ambulance Service.
"At the last meeting, (Houston County) Judge (Erin) Ford came and spoke with us regarding the hospital district absorbing the entire subsidy," said Blackwell. "The county was previously paying 25 percent, and we were paying 75 percent.
"So, the intent, as we kind of discussed last month, is to go ahead and absorb the entire amount" which is $245,000.
In other business, five of the board members voted to pass a motion approving a resolution, calling for reduction of authorized beds from 49 to 25 at Houston County Medical Center in order for the hospital to become a critical care access facility. Robbins offered the motion, and Ramsey seconded it. Driskell abstained from voting on the motion because he said didn't feel he was prepared to vote on the matter.
Before the vote was taken, Grier asked HCMC Administrator Robert Torres how such a reduction would affect hospital staffing, and Torres said, "It will not change our staffing at this point in time because we have been operating at a minimal amount of beds."
Blackwell said, "By becoming a critical access hospital, our reimbursement from ... Medicaid is higher," and Torres said that is correct.
"That's really the reason for doing that," Blackwell added.
Robbins asked, "Can we add to it, expand it later? Is that an option?" Torres responded, "Yes, that's always an option. We could take a look at it if the need arises."
In a non-action item on the meeting agenda, Torres gave board members an update on Little River Healthcare (LRH), which serves as HCMC's overseer and provides administrative and management services to the hospital.
First, he noted that LRH brought aboard Dr. Phillip Myatt, a board certified internal medicine and cardiovascular disease provider, on Aug. 18.
And four other doctors and a physician's assistant will follow in the near future. They are Dr. Daniel Dawson, a board certified obstetrics and gynecology physician, who will start with LRH on Sept. 7; Dr. J. Michael Cochran, who will care for nursing home patients and will start on Nov. 1; Dr. J. Patrick Walker, who will start on Oct. 1; and Scott Shaver, a family medicine physician's assistant, who will join the LRH staff on Oct. 1. Torres said LRH took on a total of 12 new hires in July.
In addition, Torres shared with board members a summary of the results of a recent patient survey of the rural healthcare clinic conducted by HCMC. He said 99.5 percent of the survey respondents said the receptionist they encountered was respectful and courteous, but only 78.9 percent said they were seen within 10 minutes of their scheduled appointments.
Some 99.1 percent of the respondents said their medical provider was respectful and courteous and 98.7 percent of them said they believed their provider listened to them and attended to their needs.
While 78.2 percent of respondents rated their visits with their providers as a "5" on a five-point scale – where 5 means "perfect" – 95.9 percent of respondents said they would recommend the clinic to a family member or friend.
Torres said. "We will continue to monitor for the duration of the third quarter. And I will submit the final data at that time. So, we had really good, positive responses from the patients that we're seeing...."
In addition, LRH has decided to convert the electronic medical record (EMR) to Greenway, which is another EMR system, Torres said, but the timeline for that conversion has not been set.
Blackwell told Torres, "I want to commend Little River Healthcare for all of this positive news and all of these providers that we're going to have in the community. It's an exciting time."