Wednesday, January 3, 2018

A Hospital In Crisis: Decatur County General On Life Support

Photo Credit: Jackson Sun

Decaturville-The only hospital in rural Decatur County maybe closing its doors in the next few months, adding to a growing list of rural hospital casualties in Tennessee.
If Decatur County General Hospital closes its doors it will be the tenth hospital in Tennessee to close its doors since 2012. To put that number in perspective Tennessee will trail only Texas in the number of hospitals closed in that time frame. Texas has closed 13 hospitals. To put that number into perspective, 22 million more people live in Texas than in Tennessee.
Last night the Decatur County Commission met in a special session called by Mike Creasy, who serves as the County Mayor. The purpose of the meeting was called to discuss the future of the county-owned hospital.
The county's hospital has been on life support for years. Three years ago the county commission added a $60 wheel tax to try and address the shortfall that was created by the hospital. That figure produces an estimated $500 to $600 thousand.
Creasy told the county commission last night that estimates for the next fiscal year show the hospital losses over $2.3 million.
The estimated cost of closing the hospital is $2.8 million, the mayor said that is just an estimated number and there are a lot of "moving parts" in process. In that number would also be salaries and benefits to the estimated 80 plus employees.
The county looked into borrowing money to keep the hospital open or to close it. Since the county owns the hospital, the county has to borrow the money. The comptroller's office approved Decatur County to borrow just over $1 million.
One of the major problems facing rural hospitals is the reimbursement rate from TN Care, Medicaid, insurance or self-pay. According to the numbers that were presented at the meeting, the hospital only receives just over 38 percent of the services billed.
The mayor told the commission that he had challenged the numbers "every way I know how to" and that only 2 of all the hospital's departments were profitable.

The topic of keeping the Emergency Room of the hospital open was discussed. The numbers show that if the county kept the ER and the services that have to be maintained to support it, that the estimated loss is $900,000.
Mayor Creasy told the public in attendance and the 18 commissioners that "We cannot keep pressing on, without positive news in our health care."
"The most feasible way out" would be to put on another vehicle with Emergency Managment Services. That vehicle could take citizens to other hospitals to get treatment.
County Commissioners asked a few questions about possible options to save the hospital. The mayor told the commission that he and the hospital board would keep looking for options.
After the question and answer session of the commissioners, a motion was made to start the process of closing the hospital. That motion carried by a vote of 12 to 6.
One of the commissioners said this isn't a Decatur County problem, this is a national problem and that the county did not to be in the hospital business. The county mayor added that based on these numbers there was no way he could come to them and ask them to fund this measure.
If the final decision is made to close the hospital it will take approximately 2 to 3 months and a $1,036,000 loan would help cover that cost.
A Decatur County resident said that he would love to see the hospital stay open, I believe we all want to see that, but the numbers just don't add up.
A county commission meeting will be scheduled in the next few weeks and at that time the public will be able to address the situation.