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Houston County Courier - Local News

Copyright 2011 - Polk County Publishing Company

Kelly voices concerns about change of ETMC bond rating
Houston County Courier

By Lynda Jones
Managing Editor

ETMC Crockett Administrator Terry Cutler reported Tuesday, May 17 to the Houston County Hospital District Board of Directors that the transfer of Upper Payment Limit (UPL) grant funds for completion of the surgery center construction at ETMC Crockett is scheduled for May 24. Board President Dr. John Stovall said he recently met with the board’s attorney in Austin concerning a modification to the agreement between the HCHD and ETMC regarding the project. Stovall said he believes the modification should be agreeable to both parties, but he wants the agreement completed before the HCHD releases any of its $1.5 million for the project. The government is expected to provide $2.25 million in UPL funds. The estimated cost for the surgery center project is $3.75 million. Stovall said he needs to have the attorney’s revision of the agreement by May 20 so the board can schedule a special meeting prior to May 24 to approve it. If the UPL transfer does not occur on May 24, Cutler said, the board will have to wait another quarter to act. In other business, Dr. Richard Kelley expressed concerns about a change in ETMC’s bond rating as reported by Berkshire Hathaway’s BusinessWire. Basically ETMC’s bond ratings, according to the report, have changed to negative from stable. They went down to triple B bonds, according to the report. “You’re already starting to see the ramifications of this because, for instance, at ETMC Tyler where they’ve gone from a Level I to a Level II Trauma Center and here they have closed down the OR at night. Now, that no longer makes us a full-service hospital,” Kelly said. He continued, “If we if they keep doing these cuts, we’re going to end up being shut. Now I think we need to seriously think about this. First of all, no corporation is going to move into this county without a true full-service hospital there. So this will stagnate this county. Second of all, this requires people being shipped up to Tyler or elsewhere.” According to Kelly, the cost of a transferred patient is about $1,000, and an average of two patients per day are being transferred from Crockett. “That’s more than one salary we’re losing out of this county every single day. That’s a tremendous amount of money,” Kelly said. “When you get transferred, it’s not free transfers. You go by ambulance and I don’t know what it is—about $4,000. If you go by helicopter it’s probably about $16,000. That’s a lot of cash,” he continued. “It is really hitting people heavily, plus there is the old-fashioned golden hour which is if you’re in a major trauma you need to be really intervened with within an hour. Well, they cannot get people down here and do the transfer and do the whole thing within an hour. So potentially, we’re going to lose people out of this county because of all that,” Kelly said. “What I’m afraid of,” Kelly said, “is that ETMC in their downward spiral is going to have to cut, cut, cut to the point where we’re no longer a real hospital and then (when) we have to deal with another institution, we won’t have much to show. That’s pretty scary. That’s real scary as far as I’m concerned.” “I think we need to carry on going with ETMC, but we need to start outreaching to other institutions and seeing if they can offer something more stable in the long run,” Kelly said. “If they can honor their contract and they can show us they can help us prosper in the future . . . I have no problem with ETMC. If they cannot do that, we as representatives of the Houston County Hospital Tax District would be remiss not looking for other opportunities to get people to come in here,” Kelly said. Cutler answered concerns from the board about a recent temporary closure of the operating room at night, saying a contract nurse qualified for OR will be coming on Tuesday, May 24. He said the OR had been closed at night because a nurse left. Cutler also said obstetrics is covered. “It’s the trauma that’s not covered,” Cutler said, “and I’ll go on to say that we’re a Level III today, but tomorrow (Wednesday, May 25) we’re going down to a Level IV. So those cases are going to be transferred anyway because of that Level IV.” Kelly reiterated, “I still think we need to put out some feelers. I hope they (ETMC) pull through. That’s a pretty steep drop in the bond rating.” Norma Dell Jones, newly elected to the board, asked, “What’s going to happen to the wreck victims?” Cutler explained, “Wreck victims are assessed at the scene and transported from the scene by helicopter or ground right now. That’s already happening.” “Which means that they’r not bringing (them) into this institution and you have somebody sitting out there and it takes at least a half hour to get down there and back . . . . They’ve lost the golden hour. Lawyers call that medical malpractice,” Kelly said. Dr. Patrick Walker referred to two cases last month where the victims were on the scene for over an hour and 10 minutes within five miles from the hospital in Crockett, waiting on a helicopter to take them away. “I think they’d be more comfortable in our emergency room. We could at least be doing something for them rather than sitting at the scene,” Walker said. “This (financial condition) is forcing them (ETMC) to do things like that which significantly, and I mean significantly, adversely affects the quality of care to the local citizens, and, potentially, people die,” Kelly said. Kelly concluded, “My point is the cuts are having to be made and they’re affecting the people of this county. I’d like to see them reversed, hope they can be reversed. But we need to be looking before our hospital has deteriorated.” At the conclusion of the board’s regular business, during the public comments section, former board member Virginia Lewis addressed the board, saying she enjoyed her four years on the board. Lewis also chastised some board members for what she called unethical and unprofessional behavior during the campaign season, and alluded to unkind behavior on both sides of the table at some of the board meetings over the past four years. Lewis said that, in the future, “I hope you go, hand in hand, in unity, to work together.”


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