By Alton Porter
The two current national and state level leaders representing Houston County and a former leader from the area have joined forces to support local officials in their efforts to have the county's hospital reopened.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas, 8th Dist.), Texas Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Dist. 57) and former U.S. Rep. Jim Turner (D-Crockett) met with members of the Houston County Hospital District (HCHD) Board of Directors and other local leaders, including Houston County Judge Jim Lovell and Crockett Mayor Joni Clonts, and were led on a tour of the county's hospital building Tuesday, Jan. 23.
All three leaders reaffirmed their commitment to support the HCHD board and the principals of Crockett Medical Center, LLC, (CMC) who are partnering to reopen the facility, hopefully as soon as around mid-May.
In remarks before introducing Brady to and audience of the local leaders and hospital reopening supporters from the community at a gathering following the tour, Turner said, the hospital's new operators (CMC executives) were to "go to the state licensing office Friday (Jan. 26) and get the permit for operating a hospital that has been held in abeyance and not revoked, ever since this hospital closed, through the hard work and efforts of Rep. Ashby."
Drawing applause and verbal shouts of approval, Turner told Ashby, "We're very grateful for what you did."
Turner explained, "We all know it was unprecedented for (Charles Smith), the (executive) commissioner of (Texas) Health and Human Services to not revoke our license. The state regulations say very clearly that 10 days after a hospital is closed, the license shall be surrendered. And Trent persuaded him (Smith) that this one shouldn't be surrendered. And so, our new investors (CMC executives) are going to be able to recover it Friday (Jan. 26) when they go in to visit the appropriate officials.
Turner introduced the two investors—Dr. Subir Chhikara and Dr. Kelly E. Tjelmeland, both of Austin and who were present—to the audience.
Turner said Chhikara and Tjelmeland "will operate, as I recall, under the name of Crockett Medical Center going forward.... These two gentlemen, along with another investor—maybe more—who has been a silent partner in this effort, have committed the funds necessary to reopen this hospital.
"And, as most of you can appreciate, when you've had a hospital close and you have to try to reopen it, you don't even get to collect any billings from the federal government or from these big insurance companies for five or six months, even after you get a provider number so you can claim the money.
"So, we all know it's going to take someone with deep enough pockets to sustain the reopening of this hospital. And we're very grateful that these two gentlemen, and the commitment they've made, will allow that to happen. And this board (the HCHD board of directors) is committed to working very closely with them to ensure the success of what has to be a true partnership between this community and these hospital investors and physicians who have come to us. So, we're very pleased and we thank both of you (Chhikara and Tjelmeland) for having faith in Houston County and the future of healthcare here."
Then, Turner yielded the floor to (Brady), calling him "our guest of honor" at the Jan. 23 tour and reception. "We're very pleased that Congressman Brady would take the time to come to visit this hospital," Turner said. "We're very grateful. Kevin and I started out in the Texas Legislature together. We went to Congress at the same time. And I don't think I have a better friend in Congress than Kevin Brady.
"We gave Kevin a very short briefing on where we stand and the things we need. We were most encouraged by what he had to say to us and I want him to share a few thoughts with you."
After thanking Turner for his leadership and friendship through the years, saying Turner "sort of set the standard for public service," Brady said, Turner's "leadership today is one of the reasons why this hospital is going to reopen."
Then, Brady said, "This (reopening the hospital) is crucial for the community—crucial for the future of Crockett and Houston County.
"You have a lot of good things—actually remarkable things—going for you. One, the commitment from the community. A lot of communities would have rolled over at this point and just said, 'They'll never open up.'
"Between your board, this commitment from the mayor, the judge and county commissioners, the community that is fighting to bring healthcare back permanently to this area is really remarkable. And I know that Trent called ... You called me over the holidays ... Thanksgiving, I think, about the importance of responding now to make sure this hospital could reopen. So, you've got a remarkable commitment from the community.
"Secondly, I don't need to tell you this. This is an amazing facility. We were talking about it as we were touring. There are few facilities with this type of technology, potential anywhere in a rural community in the country, much less Texas. And so, you've got, I think, a remarkable potential beyond what other communities have in healthcare.
"And thirdly, and perhaps more importantly, you've got two investors who know what the potential is for this medical center and this hospital. So grateful for your taking such a hard look at this facility, recognizing what this can be and the importance for the community. Making that investment speaks a whole lot to you gentlemen (Chhikara and Tjelmeland) in what you know you can deliver."
Brady added, "And as we were walking (during the tour), doctor, you said you're not interested in just opening the facility. You're interested in bringing top-notch quality care long-term to the community. That's a big difference, and we so appreciate the investment you're making.
"What Jim and the team has asked us to do—we've had the pleasure of working on this issue for some time. But now, it really is critical with this (lease) contract (between the HCHD board and CMC executives) being signed that we get through the paperwork sooner rather than later so that the reimbursement can flow, so we get the right designation so this facility long-term can provide quality care for Crockett and Houston County.
"I'm just telling you, I'm committed to doing everything I can to make that happen. I know how important this hospital is for the community. And your (people in the audience) presence here, from the prayers that occur each day here, the commitment you're making, we need to help deliver with you on that. And so, I will do everything I can to help this hospital reopen and stay open for the long-term."
Turner told Brady, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, "We are very proud of the accomplishments you have as a member of Congress, the position to which you have been elevated. I don't think we've ever had a chairman of the Ways and Means Committee representing Houston County.
"So, we're very proud of that and what you're doing. And thank you so much for the commitment you have made to us to help us through these very difficult and perilous times."
Turner added, "Between Kevin Brady and Trent Ashby, we cannot fail."