The Claiborne County Commission refused to place a resolution from the Claiborne County Hospital Board on the agenda for their Jan. 28 meeting, leaving the hospital board essentially in limbo regarding financing a new required computer system.
At the Jan. 22 meeting of the hospital board, board members voted 4 to 2 to send a resolution to the commission asking for their support for financing of a $3.5 million loan. The loan will go to purchase a computer system that is needed to fulfill requirements of the health care overhaul — an electronic medical record (EMR) system that must be in place by 2014 in order to continue to receive Medicare funding.
Because of a new debt service policy, the commission must approve any debt the hospital incurs because it is a county-owned entity. There is not a defined amount, so as of now any amount must go before the commission.
Commissioner Danny Longworth made a motion to not place the resolution on the agenda.
“Some things have come up that we need to take a look at,” said Longworth, “like a possible lease or partnership for the hospital, and I don’t think we should vote on this right now.”
His motion passed unanimously at the Jan. 28 meeting.
One audience member asked to speak to the hospital board before the meeting got under way. Aileen Standifer Craft told of her good experience with the hospital and told the board she is worried about it.
“I don’t plan to stand idly by and let it leave here if I can help it,” she said.
Craft suggested the board look at less expensive options.
“When you tell me a figure of $3.5 million to do this simple job, you have just told me why Claiborne County Hospital is going broke,” she said. “Mismanagement and greed are usually a failing hospital’s Achilles’ heel.”
Board member Mike Robertson addressed Craft, explaining that the federal government has already paid the hospital $1.4 million because it reached the first “meaningful use” deadline required by Medicare in regard to the EMR system. Another deadline is looming in 2014, and there is a concern that if the organization does not take action now, there could be a problem meeting that deadline. The government will give an amount back to the hospital after that requirement is met as well.
Robertson then noted the board’s actions over the previous months, including voting to renovate some rooms and voting to give employees a bonus at the end of the year because they haven’t received raises in two years.
“We made those decisions and knew what we were doing, and made a conscious decision that our employees are worth that,” he said. “I don’t know why everyone is all of a sudden panicked.”
“We’re just concerned because we’re entering into our bread and butter months,” said Tim Brown, hospital administrator. “We’re $700,000 short of our average revenue, and the last two to three months have trended downward.”
The inaction of the commission has put the hospital in jeopardy, stated several hospital board members.
“If the county commission is wanting to sell or lease the hospital, they in essence have sold it,” Robertson stated.
There was discussion of putting out Requests for Proposals to garner interest in leasing or selling the hospital.
“We need to do whatever is going to ensure that Claiborne County Hospital will be here on down the road,” said board member Bill Dunavant.
Board member Lindsey Cadle mentioned that the programs the board has voted to invest money in will make money down the road — members have looked at them as long-term investments.
“But we (the hospital board) are purposeless if they don’t support us,” Cadle said of the commission.
“They have made the decision to sell the hospital by doing nothing,” Robertson said.
Someone suggested that the commissioners need to be educated as to what the $3.5 million is for, and the consequences if they do not back the hospital board’s decision.
“They put us on the board to make these decisions,” Cadle said.
Board member Rob Asbury suggested that someone completely independent of the hospital and the county come in and go over the options the hospital has — remaining under county control, selling, a partnership or leasing.
“There’s no question that we have to explore all the options we have,” he said. “I’m tired of making decisions and it comes back to us.”
The board voted to recess once again and reconvene on Feb. 11 at 6 p.m. in the conference room of the hospital. They asked County Mayor Jack Daniels to send a letter to each county commissioner urging them to attend the meeting to become more educated about why the hospital needs the $3.5 loan. Daniels said he did not have it in the budget to pay the commissioners to be there, like they would normally be paid for a regular meeting or a committee meeting.
“They’ll have to voluntarily come,” he said.
“If they’re interested in this hospital at all, they’ll be here,” said hospital board member Chester Gibson.