For the past five years or so I have been attending more and more Weems Memorial Hospital board meetings and almost without exception, I am the only person there from the general public in attendance. That’s a shame because the hospital (along with the ambulance service and clinic) are essentially a $6 million business (what it actually spends) losing another $2-million-plus filled in by your taxes. It needs, it demands citizen and commissioner involvement.
While I and my organization have been deeply concerned the Weems system has systemic financial problems, we understand that it is the will of some to push forward with a revitalized and renovated hospital expected to cost in the $10 million to $12 million range. As such, I have worked with both the Weems board and hospital staff on means and methods to ensure that the project can be built to budget and without surprises, such as the consolidated school debacle that ran over budget by some estimates $8 million to $10 million.
Back in September I suggested that the hospital board look into the design/build method of construction vs. the lump sum bidding process that caused the school problems, and yesterday the board approved a $14,000 Phase One contract with Adams Management Services, Inc. to do so. I have also known (as the hospital board has also known) for some time that financial controls at Weems are out of control. Weems is on its third accounting situation in the last 12 months and no one at this time has confidence in the financial numbers generated.
At Friday’s board meeting at Weems, the latest financial report for last year (there are no current numbers beyond that) show an operating loss of $2.25 million before subsidies and other revenue in-kind that reduces the net loss to $515,615. We were also informed that these numbers are not likely to be final, with further amendments to follow. In September I did ask the board to consider refraining from committing hundreds of thousands of dollars they don’t have to any project until they were comfortable that they had a handle on their finances and knew how they were going to pay debt service on an expensive new project. At least one board member reacted negatively to my comment and stated that the community expected their new hospital and there was no time for delay. I disagreed politely.
At the board meeting Feb. 7, that very same board member proposed what I will term the “Allan Rule,” which a modified version was passed by the board that limits public comments to three minutes at the beginning of each meeting. That is a worthless subterfuge that effectively bars public participation in front of the hospital board. The Board of County Commissioners does not follow this method and usually allows limited public comment on an issue-by-issue basis and at the end of each county commission meeting. Why the difference here? The Board of County Commissioners’ meetings don’t usually have a lot of people wanting to speak either, but they do invite everyone to speak their piece. Why should it be any different with a board of well-meaning but sometimes overwhelmed and underequipped hospital board members to hear contrarian or supportive views by a public of one for a few minutes once a month?
Near the end of the meeting and after the vote to limit participation, that board member in question turned around and said to me “We are a deliberative body and should not take advice from non-board members. If you want to talk, get on the board.”
What do you think commissioners? It’s your board!
Allan J. Feifer
President. Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc.