The fate of Glen Rose Medical Center was a hot topic Monday. Following a heated hospital discussion, Somervell County commissioners called for two subsequent meetings on the issue.
On Monday, Feb. 25, a hearing will be held to consider a petition calling for a hospital district election. First, on Thursday, Feb. 21, officials will meet with a representative Community Health Systems (CHS), a Tennessee-based company which operates Lake Granbury Medical Center (LGMC) and other hospitals across the state and nation.
County Judge Mike Ford said Monday's discussion to "familiarize the court with the process of a potential lease offer for the hospital" was placed on the agenda following a request by Commissioner Larry Hulsey, Pct. 1.
Following the meeting, Hulsey said while it may be too late, he believes there could be options regarding the hospital which have not been given due diligence. He said a meeting with CHS officials should have been held months ago.
Are there options?
In addressing Somervell County Hospital Authority Board Chairman Larry Shaw Monday, Hulsey asked why there has been a push to call for an election without discussion on a potential lease agreement.
"We have to hear there is a willing buyer," Shaw said. "We don't believe there is."
Shaw said a Dallas area consulting firm issued an opinion over a year ago, saying there didn't appear to be anyone interested in leasing the facility.
However, in July 2012, David Orcutt, Lake Granbury CEO, told the court CHC was interested in entering into a long-term agreement with Glen Rose Medical Center (GRMC), assuming staff and operating costs. Orcutt said despite public concern, CHC did not plan to close down GRMC.
“We do not buy hospitals to shut them down,” Orcutt said. "It just makes sense to keep the hospital going."
According to Hulsey, who recently spoke with CHC officials, interest remains.
"Granbury says they are interested," Hulsey said. "Y'alls mindset is to get a district and that's it. Y'all are going ahead with the district without (looking at) other options."
Shaw said there has been rumor of a proposal drawn up by CHC relating to the lease of the medical center since last year, but the hospital authority hasn't been contacted with an offer.
"They haven't approached us," Shaw said.
Hulsey said the hospital authority should be obligated to explore every avenue.
Meanwhile, Ray Reynolds, Glen Rose Medical Center CEO, said following a request, an "extensive list of information," including records related to finances, services, federal funding, debt and more was provided to LGMC management in November and December of last year.
While Shaw began the meeting saying he believed there was only one option, he eventually said there were a couple of others. He said the hospital authority could see if "someone wants to acquire the facility" or scale back operations under the direction of the authority.
There could be benefits of allowing a larger entity to lease the hospital.
"Rural hospitals don't have the clout bigger hospitals have," Curtis said.
What are the facts?
Hulsey cited a statement by James Burkhart, co-chair of the Glen Rose Medical Center (political action) Committee, in the Feb. 6 edition of the Reporter. Burkhart said the formation of a hospital district is key to keeping the hospital open. He said without the formation of a district, 1115 federal (medicaid reimbursement) funding - about $1.5 million per year - is at risk.
Commissioner John Curtis, Pct. 2, asked if Burkhart's statement was true.
Shaw said the 1115 funding is not at risk as long as IGT (intergovernmental transfer) funds can be provided by the (hospital) authority or county.
"The 1115 waiver is a five-year program," Shaw said.
Hulsey expressed concern over the impact a new taxing entry would have on property owners.
"If you go with a district, taxes will go up," Hulsey said.
While the county would no longer require the nearly seven cents used to fund hospital operation and debt, there is no promise that county taxes will be lowered.
While the burden of funding the hospital would be removed from the county budget, another looming concern, the potential decrease in property value at Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant, could mean affected taxing entities would have to adjust their budgets or tax rates to make up the difference.
"We don't know what's going to happen at the plant," Hulsey said. "Something could change tax wise. They are paying around 80 percent (of the county budget) now. If something happens, we are going to have to come up with more money."
In addition, Reynolds said an estimate of the initial tax rate shows 10-12 cents will be needed to finance the hospital.
Hulsey asked if the hospital is currently operating on seven cents, why the district would require 10-12 cents and why the proposal allows for a maximum rate of 17.5 cents.
Meanwhile, Commissioner James Barnard, Pct. 4 said the threat of closing the hospital was also used when the PAC worked to gather the required signatures on the petitions calling for a district election.
"You are asking taxpayers to go with what you want," Hulsey agreed.
The last time an election related to the formation of a hospital district was taken to the voters it failed.
"I don't know if the 75 cents (proposed tax rate) was the failure mechanism," Curtis said. "But we run the risk of the election failing again. What is our contingency plan?"
Curtis echoed an opinion he has repeated for the last two years.
"I would like to look at the options," he added.
Shaw said officials need to be careful on how they approach the issue.
"We need to be careful that we don't use this whole discussion to disturb and destroy, to skew the opportunity to have a district," Shaw said. "We don't want to confuse the public."
He also said since a proposal had not been received relating to a lease, the discussion to consider it as an options was about "a whole bunch of nothing."
While CHS officials were expected to meet with commissioners on Feb. 21, Ford said the plans didn't go through his office and said the issue should be discussed in a public forum including the hospital authority and interested community members.