Hospital gives entities Feb. 23 deadline

Published 11:27 pm Friday, February 13, 2009

Mike Marshall, the chief executive officer of Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital, told the representatives of the cities of Demopolis and Linden and of the Marengo County Com-mission that he needed a decision by Feb. 23 relating to a subsidy for the Tombigbee Emergency Medical Service.

The hospital is requesting a $184,000 subsidy from the City of Demopolis, $92,000 from the City of Linden and $124,000 from Marengo County.

The figures were arrived at by averaging the loss amount over the last three years, which was an average of about $226,000, and adding in the estimated cost to replace one ambulance, with the total coming out to about $400,000.

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The hospital board then looked at the number of ambulance runs made to Demopolis, Linden and around Marengo County in the last three years. Marshall said that 46 percent of the ambulance calls went to Demopolis, 23 percent to Linden and 31 percent to other areas in the county. The board then applied those percentages to the $400,000 figure to determine how much to request from each entity.

Marshall requested those amounts from those three entities in October, just before the deadline for budget requests, and all three entities declined. Marshall is making the same plea to the entities this month.

“I told them (the entities) that our board, at our last meeting, indicated that we wanted to get some answer very quickly,” Marshall said, “at the latest, to make a recommendation one way or the other by our board meeting on Feb. 26.

“I told them I would like to know something, if possible, by that Monday, the 23rd.”

“There are only a few ways to generate money for a county or a city,” he said. “It’s either property tax-related or sales tax-related. The problem with applying for a grant is that it would be for only one year.”

Marshall said the increased unemployment rate, causing people to not be able to afford to pay their co-pays or bills, along with the decrease in elective procedures brought the situation to its current state.

“Our bad debt write-offs are up 27 percent over what they were last year,” he said. “That’s a significant amount of money for us.

“And with that, the indigent care is going to go up. When you start having less revenue coming into your profitable profit line and more that you’re writing off, that’s not a good situation to be in.”

The three entities were pessimistic about the possibilities of subsidizing the ambulance service.

“The council has not considered in terms of where to come up with one dollar, much less hundreds of thousands,” Demopolis mayor Mike Grayson said at his weekly press conference on Monday.

“We’re still in the investigative process. We are trying to find some resolution for this. It is crucial that we have a viable health care facility — which includes an ambulance service — if we are going to sell this town in terms of recruiting industry and business expansion.”

“Unfortunately, we would not be able to afford what the hospital requested,” said Linden mayor Mitzi Gates on Friday.

“It sounded to me after talking with (Linden mayor pro tem Dennis) Breckinridge, who was at that meeting on Monday, that the hospital had a good idea about outsourcing an ambulance service, with the understanding that two or three years down the road, they may be back in the board room with their (the ambulance service’s) hand out. The possibility of us coming up with $90,000 is zero.”

“We are just not in a position to fund them at the rate they are requesting now,” said Marengo County commissioner Jerry Lofton.

“We had a tight budget this past year, and it remains to be seen what the budget for the next year will look like, but with the economic conditions like they are, we don’t expect it to be a lot better; we just hope it is not worse.”