Taxpayers who turned out for the first town hall meeting held by the Somervell County Hospital Authority Board on Tuesday night had finances and the hospital’s future on their minds.
Several people in the audience also drew applause when they expressed support for keeping Glen Rose Medical Center a county facility and not selling it.
Only three members of the seven-member board – chairman Larry Shaw and members Ernie Reinke and Gary Whitte — were allowed to address questions at the forum held at the Somervell County Expo Center. About 100 people attended.
The state’s Open Meetings Act requires governmental entities to post notice of public meetings at least 72 hours in advance. Even though the board had advertised the town hall meeting weeks in advance in both Glen Rose newspapers, an attorney called Gary Marks, chief executive officer of Glen Rose Medical Center, on Monday to point out that the town hall would be considered a board meeting if a quorum of board members spoke.
As a result, board members Sharon Boone, Bob Lancaster, Angie Robertson and Deborah Gray could attend but not be on the podium to answer questions.
Shaw said in his opening remarks that, contrary to a published report several months ago, the medical center has not lost $1 million.
While the fiscal year projection was for a possible $1 million loss, the medical center is “severely under that number” for the first six months, Shaw said. Its current fiscal year began on Oct. 1.
“We’re glad things are a bit better” than the original projections, he added.
Whittle added that “what we’re here tonight to do is to listen to your input. We can’t do anything about the past. But we’re here to talk about the future of Glen Rose Medical Center.”
The Somervell County Commissioners Court appointed the board last November and members began serving in January.
The first question came from a woman who was having dialysis treatment and having to go to Granbury or Cleburne for treatment three times a week.
“What would be nice is if we could get a dialysis center here and a vascular doctor or a kidney doctor,” she said. She estimated that 48 people are going to dialysis centers each week from Glen Rose.
Debbie Harper, who posts videos and minutes of public meetings and public financial records on her Somervell County Salon website, questioned why the medical center would not release information about employees’ salaries as other public entities do. Harper had filed an Open Records Request to obtain the information.
“In reality, a medical center is a lot different form a city or county government,” Reinke responded. “It’s hard for people to believe this, but we’re in a competitive market.”
The fear is that disclosing salary information would give competitors that information, he added.
“It’s really important for people to know how their money is being spent,”
“I’m not disagreeing with you,” Reinke said.
Another questioner asked about the recent hospital expansion, which came in $900,000 under budget.
The Somervell County Commissioners Court is responsible for deciding what to do with the money, Shaw responded. Because it was part of the certificates of obligation the county entered into for the medical center, the county has to spend it on medical center improvements or to service that debt.
The medical center’s clinic at the Pecan Plantation gated community between Glen Rose and Granbury also drew questions. It’s been controversial because the clinic is in Hood County. But it’s also one of the medical centers’ few profitable operations.
Shaw said the clinic’s profits aren’t broken out in the medical center’s overall budget.
“But not only is it successful and profitable, but we think it has even more potential,” he added. Pecan Plantation has about 6,000 residents, many of them affluent.
One of the medical center’s biggest financial problems is the amount of bad debts and charity cases, Reinke pointed out.
“One thing we do not get from Pecan Plantation are bad debts and charity,” he added.
Other questions concerned the hospital’s long-term plans.
“Are we going to keep it in the county or will it be leased out?” one man wanted to know.
The board has hired the consulting arm of Community Hospital Corporation to conduct an operational assessment and help it answer such questions, Shaw responded.
“The insurance companies don’t favor good contracts” with small hospitals the way they do large ones, he added. “A relationship with a big hospital may be inevitable.”
Reinke added: “I don’t think there’s a soul in our county that wants us to sell the hospital. That’s why we hired this group to help us make this decision. Until we get these assessments, we don’t know where we’re going to go.”
The hospital’s net revenues are about 30 percent of billed revenues, Shaw pointed out. “That’s a big discount. We feel like get pushed around by the insurance companies.”
Physical therapist Clark Cole, who used to work for the hospital but now is independent, wanted to know the board’s attitude about services that might compete with the hospital’s. Cole has said that doctors at the hospital refer patients to the medical center’s rehab center rather than to his and often don’t let patients know they have a choice.
“Our rehab center does make us money,” Shaw said. “We’ve asked questions. I want to make sure we aren’t exclusive in our referrals.
“But I’m not going to be part of a board that tells doctors what to do,” he added. “I want to be sure that we’re fair to the community. I think we need to encourage business growth.”
He estimated that about 30 percent of all doctor referrals at the hospital are to services at the medical center.
Cole said that Glen Rose has “so much potential. I think we have an incredible team of doctors. You can’t go to another small town and find a team of doctors like GRMC has. I’m one person in the community that can tell you that there are pressures and strains that are meant to squash business.
“My neck is on the guillotine even addressing y’all in a public setting,” Cole added.
“There’s no switch to the guillotine up here,” Shaw said. “I want your business to succeed.”
At the end of the one-and-a-half hour meeting, several people in the community lauded the medical center for the treatment they’ve received or for having access to it in case of an emergency.
“I have a large number of employees working every day with dangerous animals,” said Dr. Patrick Condy, executive director of Fossil Rim Wildlife Center. The facility also brings about a quarter of a million tourists through the center each year.
“It’s a very great comfort to us knowing that we have such a very, very good medical center” nearby, he said.
Jimmy Gosdin said the medical center “has been a big part of my life.” His son was airlifted out of the hospital two weeks ago after a car accident that ruptured his lung. It was a critical situation, but the emergency room technical was able to vent the lung. His son since has been released and is doing well.
“I think we’re fortunate the hospital is here,” Gosdin added. “I want to see it stay. I certainly want GRMC to always be here.”
There were moments of laughter during the evening, too.
“About 15 years ago GRMC saved my life,” Realtor Bobby Wilson told the crowed.
“The worst thing that ever happened was saving your life,” Hugh Smith retorted, kidding him.
At another point in the forum, Smith joked that “what we really need is a big psychiatric ward” at the hospital.