Last updated: April 28. 2014 1:11PM - 1604 Views

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We don’t believe it was much of a secret here that Ashe Memorial Hospital has been facing significant financial challenges over the last several years.

The reality of the situation became acutely apparent when the difficult decision to “restructure” the Mountain Hearts Center for Wellness and Prevention was announced in early February 2014.

And we’ve detailed in the Post over the last several years the increasing number of patients who have sought medical attention at the hospital, but lack the ability to pay, largely as a direct result of the depressed economy here. There had been some hope that if North Carolina opted into the Medicaid expansion offered by the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, a lifeline of financial support might be thrown to the hospitals struggling around the state to afford services for charity-case patients, including Ashe Memorial.

In fact, even after it was announced by the state that it would turn down the expansion of Medicaid - in which the federal government would pay 100 percent for the first three years, and 90 percent in subsequent years - former Ashe Memorial CEO R.D. Williams told us he hoped the decision might be reversed. As a health care professional, Williams understood that the very future of the hospital was at stake.

Alas, it was not to be for reasons that offer no hope, except for private insurance, for hundreds of thousands of North Carolina’s working poor who aren’t looking for a hand out, but a hand up. As a result, it is estimated that 500,000 North Carolinians who might have been able to sleep better at night knowing they and their children had health care coverage, now live with the dread that any serious illness could ruin them financially for the remainder of their lives.

With the state’s decision, the responsibility to provide health care to those less fortunate now falls to local communities, and that means us.

The Ashe County Board of Commissioners have approved a referendum, 4-1, to increase the county sales tax by one quarter of a penny. It will be on the ballot in November. Commissioner Williams Sands, who voted against the referendum, did not believe now was the best time to send the measure for a vote.

We couldn’t disagree more with Mr. Sands.

Now is the time, and it was a smart, and necessary, decision.

Ashe County has two significant financial challenges gathering on the horizon, and the hospital is only one of them. Providing new technology to our public school students is the other; we will address that need in future issues of the Post.

According to AMH’s new CEO Laura Lambeth, the hospital needs at least $500,000 to “take care of a lot of the past deficits we are in.” And we believe, if not addressed, the hospital’s need could grow even larger and possibly imperil one of the county’s largest employers.

The hospital’s management team is taking the right steps to stabilize the operation’s finances by recruiting new doctors to provide medical services for local patients that might seek care in other counties.

However, the prospect of the hospital closing is unfathomable. Its continued operation is an absolute necessity if Ashe County wants to continue to grow and prosper.

Paying .25 cents on every $100 of household goods and services is a small sacrifice to help AMH now and provide a long-term stream of additional county revenue, and it would allow the county to capture a few dollars from our annual visitors.

Remember, AMH, by law, cannot turn away any person who needs emergency health care.

This is an emergency. We have the same moral obligation to our hospital.

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