The half-dozen people who offered comments at Monday’s special meeting with representatives of Ascension Sacred Heart didn’t pull any punches of their support for the proposal.
But neither did Chairman Noah Lockley, who countered their comments with some of his own.
“I’m doing the will of the people, I’m not doing the will of 35 or 40 people who voted no and still want to vote no,” he said after they spoke. “The 70 percent who said yes in the election.”
Lockley was referring to the referendum that passed with overwhelming support back in 2007, and which called for a new hospital to be built in the county, and based on most interpretations of the law, in Apalachicola.
Following an appearance by Eastpoint’s Mary McGuire, Apalachicola’s Dave Watts rose to offer remarks based on an email he has sent the county commissioners.
Watts and wife Michaelin, both 82, said they are concerned about the future of health care services in the county. He said that while serving on the board of a community hospital, he had tried to help with a construction project, based on his business background.
“ I was overwhelmed with the complexities which both contractor and the hospital were facing in order to pass the rigid state and federal requirements,” he said. “That experience has me greatly concerned about the proposed new facility that is being considered for Weems/TMH.
“Franklin County has neither the resources, both financial and human, to tackle a hospital or major health care facility construction project. Even with consultant’s advice, the responsibility will remain with the county for overruns in cost and in time. Why take on this risk that is yours to shoulder and the taxpayers to fund?” he asked.
“Ascension Sacred Heart’s proposal substantially reduces this risk,” he said. “ To consider any new Weems/TMH facility is to put good money after bad. We recognize that many longtime residents have an emotional attachment to Weems. But those experiences are long ago, and in the last decades Weems has been nothing more than an outdated emergency room.
“No consultant is going to change the direction of the downward spiraling of our health care services if the Weems/TMH project is allowed to go forward,” he said. “(Sacred Heart) is ready to deliver a project with cost certain and date certain.”
Watts’ comments were followed by those of Apalachicola businessman Tom Morgan, who stressed that Weems’ critical access hospital designation means about a $225,000 boost to the hospital’s revenues, a small percentage of what he said was the hospital’s roughly $12 million in revenues last year. He urged the county to get out of the hospital business and to ink a long-term lease with Ascension.
St. George Island’s Susan Leach said commissioners should not assume that voters such as she and her husband have not changed their minds in the last dozen years.
“Please don’t assume what we supported years ago we still do,” she said. “I can’t identify anything that TMH has done for me.”
She said she is familiar with what Sacred Heart provides in the county, as well as its physical and occupational therapy. Leach said she is aware of transportation barriers, but said these challenges will exist under any scenario, noting that her husband’s primary care provider is the VA, some distance away.
Allan Feifer, who has led the fight for Sacred Heart on behalf of the Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, urged commissioners to “put aside your political justifications for the sake of the health of the citizenry you have sworn to protect.”
After comparing the Sacred Heart and Alliant/TMH proposals, he asserted that “Weems is perpetually on financial life support,” and blasted what he called “We attack spending, nepotism, public utterances that are clearly false and the financial and legal liability that Weems presents to the county and its citizens.
“We do not attack its role as a very basic emergency room with very underutilized beds,” Feifer said. “Weems needs every dollar it can get just to keep the status quo. A new hospital will be more expensive to operate and will likely bring in just about the same revenue as now.”
Brian Robinson, a former hospital exec speaking as a private citizen, underscored Feifer’s comments.
“I’ve heard you discuss and debate the subject of jobs and the jobs that would be eliminated,” he said. “I’ve never heard the commission’s vision for health care in Franklin County. I’ve never heard the vision for clinic access and capacity, and for improving technology.
“Weems is a patient lying in the bed, our patient named Weems is hemorrhaging in this case hemorrhaging money,” Robinson said. “There won’t be enough money today and certainly not tomorrow. Weems is a patient on a ventilator, and Weems does not have the clinical capacity to provide ventilator care.”
St. George Island resident Brenda Karlin appealed, apparently directly to Lockley, for answers that went beyond asserting the results of the 2007 vote.
“The only thing I’ve heard is we want to fulfill a promise made 12 years ago,” she said. “I have not heard why it is so important to ignore the financials and ignore the public will and stand on possibly putting the county in debt.
“If you sir could explain to the community, why it is that no other option is viable except getting into debt and trying to revive Weems?” she asked.
Donna Butterfield urged acceptance of Ascension’s officer and noted that she is a voter in Franklin County.
“I vote in Franklin County too,” replied Lockley.