The Concerned Citizens of Franklin County (CCFC) has consistently advocated for improved healthcare in Franklin County. Our healthcare outcomes lag behind Gulf and Wakulla counties. The citizens of the community deserve better -- because our quality of life is often defined by our overall health.

At the Feb. 21 county commission meeting, county attorney Michael Shuler quietly asked for authority to negotiate with an unnamed third party to take over operation of Weems Memorial Hospital. County officials did not disclose that in a recent, short, two-week period, Dana Whaley, the advanced registered nurse practitioner in Carrabelle, quit; the chief financial officer of Weems quit; and Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare informed the county that it was unwilling to make any management deals with the county.

The steady erosion of confidence in Weems and the clinics continues unabated. To any objective observer, Weems is in freefall, with nothing but continual injections of taxpayers’ money. Weems has over $2 million in current liabilities. The hospital mischaracterizes its financials incorrectly as a long term liability by not including the approximate $900,000 borrowed from the capital portion of the Healthcare Trust Fund over the last 14 months. However, it is doubtful if that money will be fully repaid anytime soon.

The employment agreement with TMH -- that pays the current CEO and until recently also paid the CFO -- is or will be expiring on March 7. In the absence of an extension, the current CEO has stated he will not work directly for the county; either the contract gets extended or he’s out on that day. And, the county has a weak hand in dealing with TMH, which already is owed more than $650,000 in unpaid money for the agreement we now expect them to extend.

Against this dark backdrop, county commissioners will not publicly discuss contingency planning and what’s in the best interest of the citizens. During the public comments section of the last meeting, former Carrabelle mayor Mel Kelly spoke specifically of the need to view the county's healthcare situation as a whole system on behalf of comprehensive delivery of services.

Instead, Kelly explained, administration/leaders are perpetually operating in a crisis management mode over repeated, separate challenges such as provider staffing and salaries, underused building facilities, equipment replacement and maintenance, billing/accounting software companies, mandates and other issues.

As president of the CCFC, I spoke to many of these issues Feb. 21. The CCFC will have those comments posted on our website soon or you can view them on Forgotten Coast TV now.

Putting a cherry on top of all of this, at the conclusion of my remarks, Commissioner Lockley blurted out: “You and Mel Kelly can go back from where you came from.” Not a word of censure or rebuke was heard from the chairman who stated “let him have his three minutes.”

I have no quarrel with Commissioners Sanders, Massey or Jones, as I think they “get it.” One other commissioner stated “we’ve done everything we know to do.” I respect the commissioner who said that. But, you don’t get points for “Best Efforts;” you get points for a successful outcome.

Throwing money at a problem is not a strategy; it is the absence of one. It is arrogance of power when elected officials tell citizens “go back where you came from.” The TDC recently changed our county’s motto to “The Forgotten Coast.” We spend millions on improving our county’s image. But an ugly, outrageous statement like that is the worst kind of message and uncovers a naked truth about Franklin County: some of our ‘leaders don’t actually care about or like the people they serve, particularly those “outsiders.” Thousands of people have come to live, work, volunteer or retire in Franklin County over the years. Those “outsiders” who employ many locals and pay the vast majority of taxes, have now been told to sit at the back of the bus and keep their mouth shut.

That’s not democracy. It is despicable demagoguery and abuse of the bully pulpit to just be a blustering bully.

I hope two things come out of this ugliness. First, that the board of county commissioners apologizes for the insult to citizens not born here but who have greatly contributed to the quality of life in the community. Second, the commissioners should hire an independent third-party healthcare consultancy to immediately assess the state of health care in Franklin County. The follow-up project should be to identify resources and potential partners to meet the needs of Franklin County citizens while protecting their wallets. Only through a methodical third-party approach that does not predetermine the outcome will the “right” answers be forthcoming.

Allan Feifer

President, Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc.