JEFFERSON-In an attempt to avoid succumbing to the same fate of countless rural hospitals nationwide, Ashe Memorial Hospital officials said they have requested additional financial assistance from the county.
County Manager Sam Yearick told county commissioners Monday morning the proposed 2017-18 fiscal year budget for the county includes a $400,000 appropriation to the hospital.
Monday’s request isn’t the first time the hospital has asked for a hand-up from the county.
The hospital’s chief executive officer, Laura Lambeth, said Wednesday the hospital’s financial woes are directly related to unforeseeable and not so subtle nuances in the health care industry, as well as cuts in reimbursements for bad debt. These cuts can be troublesome for rural hospitals, which typically operate on razor thin margins.
While the hospital’s dubious financial state isn’t uncommon in rural communities, it is the taxpayer who will be expected to pick up at least part of the provider’s tab at the end of the day.
More than three years ago, citizens voted to increase the county sales tax by one quarter of 1 percent to generate new revenue for the county. As a result, Ashe received roughly $540,000 a year.
The original agreement slated a three-year term with the last fiscal year being the last installment. Every July for three years, the hospital received a check for $500,000. For the purpose of accountability, the hospital provided a list of expenditures and what that money was used for to the office of County Manager Sam Yearick, said Lambeth.
Originally, the hospital approached the commissioners to ask for $1.5 million in funding four years prior. Instead, the county said they would let AMH have the sales tax proceeds for three years. If the newest budget appropriation is approved, county tax payers will have shelled out nearly $2 million to the hospital over the span of four years.
“The hospital has much improved since that time; however, they still have financial needs as the revenue for new additional services come online,” said Yearick. “This budget proposes (appropriating) $400,000 to Ashe Memorial Hospital to assist with stabilizing finances.”
Lambeth said the new appropriation is necessary to continue to provide the level of care currently offered.
“We reevaluated at the fourth year and decided we needed it,” said Lambeth.
In looking at the hospital’s current expenditures and pending legislation that could take away healthcare for 24 million people by 2026, Lambeth was blunt about the future state of the county’s lone hospital if this request doesn’t come to fruition.
Added financial stress could mean the elimination of recently implemented services, including chemotherapy and oncology.
“Those are simply services we don’t want to go away,” said Lambeth.
New physicians and services have made the hospital more competitive with neighboring communities and larger facilities, such as Baptist and Forsyth hospitals. Before now, many Ashe County patients were forced to go off the mountain for care.
Renovations, including an overhaul and transformation of the hospital’s emergency department, have also helped to secure more support from the community along with better care, said Lambeth.
The Jefferson Post inquired of Lambeth how the hospital could afford these undertakings on a shoe-string budget.
The hospital’s management team said funding for these projects were secured through grants and donations, including a $100,000 gift from Vannoy’s Construction.
She was also asked if the hospital would make a similar request in 2018.
“I hope not,” Lambeth said.
No tax increase and budget highlights
The financial situation of the hospital wasn’t the only point of focus during Monday’s commissioners’ meeting concerning the proposed budget.
Yearick began his presentation by explaining how property owners countywide could breathe a sigh of relief this summer.
The proposed budget for county operations for fiscal year 2017-18 does not include an increase to the ad valorem tax.
Currently, the ad valorem rate is 43.3 cents per $100 valuation. This rate has remained unchanged since 2014-15 when the countywide property evaluation took place.
The proposed budget includes the following highlights:
•Replacement of outdated software in the county’s tax department.
•New voting machines
•Improvements to the exterior of the Daymark mental health services building.
•Improvements to the interior of Family Central.
•Four new patrol vehicles for the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office.
•One new vehicle for the department of building and inspections.
•One new vehicle for the planning department.
•Two new cars at the Department of Social Services.
•One additional patrol deputy.
•One additional staff member for child protective services.
Reach Jesse Campbell at (336) 846-7164.