The largest non-profit health system in the United States (Ascension) has thrown us a lifeline to our failing healthcare system. Sacred Heart has been met with suspicion and distrust instead of gratitude. Why is that? How can we change attitudes in the face of truth?


First, some essential facts.


* Weems has consumed $26 million over the last 13 years and has only about $4 million left in its capital fund.


* Interlocal agreements between the cities and the county control how the health care tax fund is split. They can be modified or dissolved.


* We have no idea how much a new hospital would cost today.


* Sacred Heart today provides much more uncompensated care to Franklin County citizens than Weems does.


* The Alliant arrangement will leave the full financial and legal liability on taxpayers with essentially long distance (not day-to-day) onsite management.


These are the undisputed facts.


Three of the unspoken drivers of this debate are East vs. West, initial job loss and the much talked about Critical Access Hospital designation.


The East vs. West issue has existed forever. Apalachicola demands a new hospital be built there. Why? It’s obvious a centrally located facility would reduce travel times, especially for ambulances, and thus expand healthcare access for a greater number of people. We see no logical reason for keeping a hospital in Apalachicola.


Do you know that 25 percent of Weems personnel don’t even live in Franklin County? We understand it is possible some current Weems staff may lose their jobs, but those professionals could be of value to a new Sacred Heart Health system as well. Issues with staffers losing their jobs is an issue to be negotiated; as of now, there have been no negotiations. Why? A successful healthcare system of the future will likely grow and provide employment opportunities.


Finally, there is the big lie. No discussion of healthcare in Franklin County has been more misrepresented than the special status that Weems enjoys under their Critical Access Hospital funding designation. Recently one commissioner stated publicly, “The Critical Access Designation is worth millions and millions of dollars.” Rubbish. Higher reimbursements apply to Medicare or Medicaid patients, only 45 percent of Weems total. In truth, this subsidy is generally agreed to fall somewhere between $80,000 and $250,000 a year, making up a small part of Weems’ total budget. Don’t be misled by repetitions of this Big Lie. Fact: Weems will have to re-compete for this designation. Building a new facility will have Weems reapplying for the CAH designation. Guess what other healthcare system will also make their pitch for it?


With few exceptions, we all want the best healthcare possible. Get involved. Ask questions and be careful of being skewered on the throne of one group or another’s truth which is how we are being divided throughout our county. Follow the money.


This month, Carrabelle Mayor La Paz bravely raised the possibility of a new referendum to address a healthcare landscape entirely changed from 2007. We applaud the mayor’s suggestion. She also raised the possibility of a review of the existing interlocal agreement that allows Carrabelle’s share of the trust fund tax to be used by the county for healthcare. This has rattled a lot of cages in Apalachicola who fear the potential loss of Carrabelle’s share.


Allan Feifer


President


Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc.