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Funding talks may continue between hospital and county

The hospital hasn't given up, and neither has the county.

McDuffie Regional Medical Center CEO Doug Keir and Hospital Authority Chair George Lokey addressed the McDuffie County Commission during the Aug. 17 meeting. Their request was a familiar one.

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The hospital's administration has requested money from the county on several occasions. Mr. Keir and Mr. Lokey said the increased number of patients who cannot pay for treatment is causing the hospital to lose money.

And they want the county to make up the difference, with higher taxes if necessary.

"I know tax is a bad word, however the possibility of raising taxes is the only way," Mr. Lokey said at the meeting.

Hospital employees showed up in huge numbers at the commission meeting to support their employers. But commissioners declined to add the money to the budget that was passed later during the meeting. Commissioners repeatedly stated that no money was available.

The initial request from MRMC was met with a mid-May vote to advance $508,000 of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax money that would have been paid to the hospital later. According to Mr. Keir, that didn't address the true problem because SPLOST money has to be used for previously outlined projects.

"The SPLOST money ... was for three specific capital projects and can only be used for capital," he said. "It cannot be for retirement of debt, and it cannot be for operations."

The hospital's recent request was initially made at the beginning of the county's budget process. Hospital officials hoped the money they requested this time would be included in the county budget for 2005. But the commission had trouble balancing their own budget for the coming year.

"You can't put a value on life. However, we are faced with many departments ... that reach out and touch people's lives, and we've got to decide where we're going to put the few dollars we have," said County Commission Chair Charlie Newton.

The county's response was not entirely negative, though. Several commissioners stated they would like to help MRMC because of its importance to the community, but they felt the timing wasn't right.

Also, commissioners didn't feel the hospital was in imminent danger.

"We were obviously disappointed. I think there's opportunity for further dialogue, and we're looking forward to that," Mr. Keir said. "We're certainly willing to sit down and discuss any and all issues and hope it's still on the table. We'd love to have that continued opportunity."

Mr. Newton said he also hopes that talks between the county and the hospital are still open but that his decision will be made strictly on a business level.

"I've heard Doug talk about cutbacks in services and personnel, and when they get to that point. ... I hope we sit down and talk about it," Mr. Newton said. "Personally, I don't feel like they're there yet. Maybe they are, and I'm just being ignorant to it. But I don't think so."



Web posted on Thursday, August 26, 2004


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