This is one of three letters to the editor this week

Can anyone believe that accepting Sacred Heart’s proposal will result in people dying in the streets as some have stated? Apparently some people do. That’s crazy talk. The value alone in surrendering legal liability and future financial losses alone should trump any baseless arguments based on bad information.


Let’s be clear on this important issue. Sacred Heart is taking away the financial risk of running a healthcare system and putting $3 million of their own money into the deal. No one, not TMH and not Alliant is offering any kind of promise, guarantee or skin in the game except for Sacred Heart.


Sentimental arguments about walking to Weems for healthcare completely obscure the fact we are a county roughly 60 by 30 miles. All of us would like to walk to a doctor. Is that something that should influence the debate for the entire county that is paying the 1 percent sales tax?


It is imperative people not be lied to with false themes like the “The people voted for it and we have to build it in Apalachicola.” Read the ballot language carefully; it’s not there. Second, the small number of people who voted for a new hospital were shown an approximate 31,000 square foot, two-story hospital with a complete list of services that were never going to happen. If you are going to say “We promised the people,” we also need to deliver what we promised. We should revisit that history as well; don’t you agree?


Weems has had a long run and its various stakeholders have much to be proud of. Weems continues to be an Apalachicola resource. And, that’s the point. Franklin County needs a countywide solution to fundamental changes in how healthcare is delivered.


Weems is an older, less sophisticated version of what has been proposed by Sacred Heart, but straddled with high operating costs and an inability to bring on additional services and doctors. Twelve years and seven CEOs later bear that out. It is an indisputable fact most of the money slated by the Healthcare Trust Fund tax to build a new hospital have been siphoned off to support operations and to stem losses over 12 years of mismanagement.


Weems today is licensed as a hospital but is really just an ER. Recuperative inpatient care is virtually non-existent at Weems, averaging under one patient a night in the last fiscal year.


How many reasonable people could disagree with the central premise that the decision on what’s next should be a business decision rather than the political decision it is, with nepotism by county commissioners reflected in hiring and ongoing interference with collection attempts by the hospital for services rendered? It’s time for a change.


The hospital board is not happy with either of the two proposals in light of a belief Weems is doing better financially, and wants to go it alone. Weems is reporting a profit for the last fiscal year of $750,559. Two adjustments totaling $1.6 million for forgiveness of debt, and a change in reserves for bad debt, changes that number to a loss of $207,000 on top of subsidies of $2 million. Both adjustments are misleading, if not outright sleight-of-hand.


Errors like these make us question oversight by the hospital board. In the many meetings of the full hospital board we have attended, there is virtually no discussion of detailed finances. We question whether the board is aware of the continuing losses.


We have spent considerable time and resources analyzing Weems proposed construction of a rehabbed Weems. After years of planning and after spending over $1.5 million on design and other studies, still, no one knows what it will cost. We do know it will be much more than the original $10 million promised publicly. The Weems architects have projected under different scenarios an additional $12.5 million to $17 million. However, in the end, that “Renovation plus addition will still be without the additional services, equipment, doctors and much, much more that are in the Sacred Heart proposal.


Much has been said about the importance of Critical Access Hospital designation. No one knows what the value to Weems is for its CA designation. More importantly, it is financially transparent to patients and is the red herring frequently ballyhooed about with little understanding of its effect on the 25 percent of patients whose care is eligible for financial enhancement.


Keep in mind as we move forward, that the only reason Franklin County should be in the healthcare business is not as a jobs program, but to provide the best quality care possible for its citizens. You have only to look at Sacred Heart, Bay Medical, TMH and Capital Regional, all providing more health care for Franklin County citizens (both paying and indigent) than by Weems. This hospital board is a prime example of why, for more than 13 years since the last hospital operator turned in his keys that neither revenue, services or patient volumes have climbed and in fact, have moved in the opposite direction. Time to pass the baton!


Allan Feifer


President, Concerned Citizens of Franklin County