County Commission Votes “NO” On Interlocal Agreement With Hospital…For NowMar 10th, 2011 | By Lynette | Category: Front Page
By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
After listening to concerns from citizens about past funding problems of the Madison County Memorial Hospital, the lack of sufficient transparency in its present dealings, and unforeseen changes to the new hospital, the County Commission voted no (4 to 1) on the interlocal agreement – at least until some adjustments are made concerning accountability, the sunshine law and public records requirements. Attorney Tom Reeves agreed to draw up the new agreement with the modifications and the Commission scheduled another meeting for Friday, March 11, at 5 p.m. to reconsider it.
Joe Todd was the first to speak to the issues of transparency and public records, saying that a lot of people were asking that the hospital publish the salaries of its employees. George Puliotte mentioned past funding problems with the hospital and the ever-increasing figures for costs of the project through the years; he also questioned the legality of the current contract, a “continuation of an old contract with the CRA” from 2000, which prevented the current project from going out for bids. “We probably could have gotten this a lot cheaper (with bidding),” he said, adding that he had been against the half-cent tax “from day one,” calling it an indigent surtax. “I’m against using government funds (for this project). We’ve broken the law and I think we need to start over.”
Tom Gniewek questioned how the new hospital was going to pay for itself when it was already going in the hole half a million dollars a year in spite of lay-offs and other cutbacks; the new facility would have to hire 13 new people in order to operate. “We should have something put in (the agreement) that we have access to their books to see if it’s viable.” Additionally, two-thirds of the beds in the new facility are now “swing beds” not critical care beds. “This is not what we signed up for…I don’t see any advantage over the building we have now.” Warren Irwin asked when the hospital had to begin making payments on the USDA loan, but no one seemed to know the exact date.
David Abercrombie responded that the hospital board meetings every Thursday were open to everyone, but that citizens were not taking advantage of this, and that hospital salaries not protected by contract were already public record. Furthermore, a hospital could not by law disclose everything. There were insurance issues and individual patient privacy rights that were exempt, and a private hospital was not subject to the same requirements as a public one would be, and to get the current hospital under the same requirements as a public hospital would mean changing the ownership, losing the corporate structure and losing the Critical Need Certification they now had.
Ben Harris also defended the hospital as already operating in the sunshine “pure and simple,” relating how his father had survived a massive heart attack in 1963 only because of the Madison Hospital’s proximity. For stroke victims and others, he added, time was also critical. “You know we need a hospital here.”
Addressing the hospital’s operating at a loss, he said, “We provided three million in indigent care last year. We were not reimbursed for that.”
The Commission, after a short discussion, voted against the interlocal agreement in its current form, and agreed to revisit the issue at the special meeting Friday, to hear the new version with a separate agreement addressing some of the concerns that had been voiced.