The ball is the county's court after the McDuffie Regional Medical Center asked the McDuffie County Board of Commissioners for $254,000 of county aid Tuesday to help offset a $508,000 revenue shortfall in indigent care funding.
MRMC CEO Doug Keir had been before the board twice during the past two months to seek financial relief, but this was the first time the hospital asked for a specific dollar amount.
In previous meetings, county officials cautioned hospital leaders that dipping into the county's reserve fund -- which right now stands at around $2 million -- to help the hospital would be a difficult call to make, and that feeling was still held by many earlier this week.
"This is going to be a tough decision process, and no matter what happens our decision will probably not be a popular one because if we say no, they're going to be and friends of the hospital are going to be upset. If we say yes, there's going to be a large part of McDuffie County that's going to be upset," said Commissioner Chairman Charlie Newton.
On Monday night, the MRMC Hospital Authority agreed to take $254,000 out of its $4.78 million reserve fund to help indigent care. They also agreed to start scaling back expenses in anticipation that the county simply may not be able to provide the kind of relief that hospital officials are seeking.
"We have made some changes in some of the things that we're doing," said Mr. Keir. "We have not cut any personnel. We are doing some other things that we have control over that are things in the budget such as supplies and other expense items and that sort of thing."
Mr. Keir did not rule out the possibility of personnel cuts or further service rollbacks in the future, however.
If the hospital decides to make cuts to its workforce, Mr. Newton said that would have an adverse effect locally.
"If we start talking about cutting high wage jobs, it hurts the community. But what services can be scaled back until we get past this?" he said.
McDuffie County Administrator Don Norton said that the funding shortage at the hospital is upsetting but not surprising given the current economic climate across the state.
"Fortunately or unfortunately, hospital boards all over the state are asking for money, and usually it's to the county, so that's not unusual," he said.
The hospital finds itself in such financial constraints due to shrinking and sometimes erratic reimbursements that help fund indigent care. So far this year, MRMC is in the red with a negative $331,527 for total net operating revenue.
"This is a real moving target that we are dealing with," said Mr. Keir. "It makes it real tough. It's a terrible situation to try and predicate what your programs and services and then the resources you need to provide those if you don't know what your funding mechanisms are going to be."
Mr. Keir also mentioned the state budget struggle, tort reform and the recently passed federal prescription drug package as things looming on the horizon that will affect MRMC's finances.
Commissioners are expected to further discuss the issue at next week's board meeting.