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The Hospital Fear Factor

March 15, 2005
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The Hospital Fear Factor

—or why are some people afraid for the hospital finances to be looked at?

For quite some time the TWG has been gathering information about the hospital.  In fact long before the new BOC took office and formed a hospital committee, the TWG had requested financial statements, copies of audits, and copies of tax returns to look at.  In this newsletter we are going to give you some FACTS and ask some questions.
 

Election Brings Concern

The hospital has become an emotionally charged issue.  One reason that has happened is because of the rumors that were started after the July election.  For some reason as soon as the 3 new commissioners from Districts 3, 4, and 5 were elected,  rumors were started about the hospital.  We had never heard any candidate discuss the hospital as a campaign issue, but immediately the Hospital Board had Jimmy Lewis from Hometown Health and

Brian Riddle of Oconee Regional come to Monticello to give a presentation as to how important it was to have and keep a hospital.  Why was this done?  It was never done when any other group of commissioners were elected—in the 2000 elections, 3 new commissioners were also elected from Districts 3, 4 and 5.  They weren’t treated to a dinner and a presentation about the hospital.  It seems that this unusual move made the new BOC think that ”something was up”.

 

Hospital Check Held and Rumors Abound

Once the poorly worded, politically incorrect letter to the editor was published, the rumor mill started in high gear.  Then the new BOC held checks, including the monthly check to the hospital, due to limited funds in the county coffers.  The rumor mill continued,  fueled not only by the hospital CEO, but also by the chairman of the hospital board along with a few select members of the community.  The doctors were leaving!  The Retreat was closing!  Everybody would lose their jobs!  No new industry would come to Jasper County and Georgia Pacific would close their doors and leave!  All this was put out as truth with the help of the Monticello News.  This was front page news while the fact that there was little money left in the bank accounts on 1/1/05 and there was about $500,000 that wasn’t budgeted for items that had to be funded was barely mentioned on the back pages of the paper. 

 

Accountability for Tax Money

Even though the BOC said they just wanted some accountability for the $42,000+ a month they were giving to the hospital, the rumors of the hospital closing would not die.  The BOC set up a hospital committee to look into the financing of the hospital, to ask questions, and to get answers. Everyone in the county who expressed an interest was put on the Committee.  The BOC even accepted the recommendation of the EDA and brought in an independent consultant. Even so, one citizen has worked tirelessly to get petitions signed to keep the hospital funding at the same level; even though no one has any idea as to exactly where that money goes.

 

Jasper Health Services, Inc. (JHS) now encompasses Jasper Memorial Hospital (JMH), the Retreat, and Primary Care.  David Owens, CEO of JMH, has said over and over that none of this money goes to Oconee; however, records gotten from David Owens himself reveal that JHS (Jasper Health Services) was in debt to Oconee Regional (ORH) for over $4 million at one point since 1999 and that $1 million of that has been paid back.  JHS still is in debt to ORH for over $3 million.   These reports also show that from 1999 –2004 (through June) JHS paid ORH for:

purchased services in the amount of $558,117;

ORH Salaries in the amount of $ 431,650;

ORH Supplies and Equipment of $662,865;

and management fees to Quorum $1,059,238. 

How can Mr. Owens continue to say that no money goes to ORH?  In fact, all money is under the control of ORH—they have control of the checkbooks.

 

WHAT DOES JMH/JHS GET FROM OCONEE?

In a meeting in January with Brian Riddle, CEO of ORH, he said that the ORH pays JHS ONE DOLLAR PER YEAR as the lease payment. Even though the hospital board and the paper reports that  things are getting better, this lease was not renegotiated to compensate Jasper for the value of leasing the building.  JHS provides ORH with untold amounts of money in referrals, lab tests, CT scan and xray readings, and of course reimbursements for supplies, and salaries.  When asked, “What does JHS get from ORH?” Mr. Riddle responded that they were the bank for JHS and would “give” them cash for payroll and other necessities.  However, ORH gives JHS nothing—all this is added to the debt that JHS owes ORH; which Mr. Riddle said stood at $3.2 million.  Mr. Owens reports this as “Oconee has put about $3 million into the operations of JHS.”

Mr. Riddle also said, “The referrals to Oconee from Jasper are around 30%.”

 

David Owens has put out in his “fact” sheet of selected facts.  He has amounts that other counties give to their hospitals each year.  He shows that Butts County gives $500,000 just like Jasper does.  However, he fails to mention that Tenet, who leases the hospital in Butts County, pays back $22,000 A MONTH in lease payments—a far cry from $1.00 per year. David Owens says that JMH provides almost $1 million in uncompensated care from indigent, charity, and other bad debt.  How much of that is really indigent care?  How much of that is for the employee discount for services?  He also propagates the rumor of the Retreat closing, but does admit that the Retreat contributes to both JMH and “its own” financial success.  For example, according to the financials for December 2004, JMH lost $102,000.  After adding in the county’s funds of $42,000 and the Retreat profit of $30,000, it was reported that the hospital only lost  $30,000.  Yet Mr. Owens and Mr. Riddle both say JHS will be profitable for 3 years and we will be able to have a NEW hospital.  It all depends on how the figures “work out.”  In the first “fact sheet”, Mr. Owens made references to, and at least one member of the hospital board told people, that the doctors would leave if the hospital closed.  (Remember, we’re talking about County funding, not closing the hospital.)  However, later Mr. Owens posted an apology on the hospital bulletin board (not in the paper so everyone could see it) saying he hadn’t asked the doctors if they would leave or not and that he misspoke and apologized. 
 

hospital poll, special meetings, and lobbying

After the January BOC meeting in the Courtroom, not only has there been a recall petition started, but there has been a poll sent to all voters of the county—on color coded cards based on your voting district.  The TWG has found that Mr. Crawford Ezell obtained the voter information from the County Registrar and took it to the printers.  Mr. Ezell has also obtained the postal permit #50 that was used for the poll.  The poll gives us no real choices other than to make comments.  The poll was sent out before any information was gathered by the committee and given to the public.  Why?  How will we ever know the true outcome of the poll?  Who will count the responses and how will we know if they are all counted?  Some people are just now getting their cards in the mail. 

 

We have been told that David Owens, CEO of JMH, has been lobbying everybody he meets, and especially any committee members he can contact. He handed out his “fact sheet” at the first Hospital Committee meeting.  Hospital Board members are also contacting committee members.  Why?  Some members of the hospital committee have had their own separate “pro hospital” meetings.  It seems that the public is suppose to believe what the hospital CEO and the hospital board tells us.  Why?  Why is the work of the committee being undermined?  Why is there fear that the public will know more than they do now?  Why shouldn’t we know just what JMH, JHS, and ORH do and how they do it?  Just what is so secret and why is there an attempt to undermine the committee?

 

Let the Committee do its Work

The TWG does not advocate “closing the hospital.”  But we do advocate knowing where our tax money is going and finding out if it is benefiting Jasper Memorial Hospital (JHS) or Oconee Regional Hospital.  Just how much does Oconee benefit with its relationship with Jasper?  Why are some people so fearful of letting the committee do this work??  Questions need to be answered and the committee needs to do its work without its mission being undermined.
 

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