Once again, the fortunes of Weems Memorial Hospital were among the top stories of the year, as a frustrated county commission continued to struggle how best to oversee the small hospital.
With an infusion of more than half of the $2.4 million that comes in annually from the one-cent health care trust fund, that covers operations of the hospital and clinics, Weems chipped away at the more than $900,000 it owed to the county for previous cash advances, with that debt now standing at a little under $690,000.
The other half of the trust fund monies went to bolster a capital outlay fund that has been growing steadily, as the county warily eyes a future $10 million renovation and expansion of the 25-bed Apalachicola facility.
But there were no moves this year towards beginning the project, which lingers on the back burner after hundreds of thousands of dollars in planning and consulting costs.
Instead, the county commissioners, increasingly divided on how best to proceed with Weems’ future, focused on bringing in a third party to serve as a risk partner that would handle some, but not all, of the management responsibilities of the facility.
In September, commissioners are moving forward with a plan to bring in a Texas-based health care consultant, Community Hospital Corporation (CHC), a 20-year-old non-profit, to help boost the bottom line at Weems Memorial Hospital.
By unanimous consent the commissioners voted to begin negotiations following a presentation from Jim Coleman, senior vice-president for CHC, that sought a deal of anywhere from six-months to two-years, for a proposed monthly fee
As those talks with County Attorney Michael Shuler moved on behind the scenes, the commissioners in late November gave Weems CEO Mike Cooper a vote of no confidence and signaled they might step away from their management agreement with Tallahassee Memorial Hospital.
The series of votes was triggered by a report from County Coordinator Michael Morón that Cooper had informed him Weems might be in need of an additional cash infusion in early 2018 to cover payroll.
As it turned out, Weems received a payment of DISH (Disproportionate Share) monies, state and federal health care dollars for hospitals that serve low-income patients, that worked to forestall any crisis.
As the year drew to a close, the county took baby steps towards negotiating a contract with CHC, but nothing was resolved.
Possible sticking points were the fact that CHC had increased its monthly fee to $30,000, and requested $5,000 monthly for expenses with an annual cap of $60,000. These fees do not include the salary of the hospital CEO who would be the only employee of CHC on site, or the services of consultants who would perform work not included in the contractual obligations of CHC.