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OPINION

A SIMPLE QUESTION: Health care in Franklin County

The Apalachicola Times

In keeping with its tradition of answer questions of candidates for public office, the Times asked the two candidates for county commissioner in Franklin County the following:

What is the best direction to go when it comes to health care throughout the county, as well as within District #1?

The following are their answers, presented in alphabetical order:

Pinki Jackel

In April 2020, the county commissioners voted 5-0 to double down on the status quo where the healthcare of our county’s citizens is concerned. They saddled the county with an antiquated facility and access to healthcare that is limited at best, and lethal in the worst-case scenario.

Accessible healthcare in a rural area is critical. We have an aging residential population, susceptible to heart attacks and strokes, and a seasonal population whose needs run the gambit. We also have accidents on land and on the water that are sometimes life-threatening. Research modeling teaches us, 30 minutes to emergency care is essential for savings lives. Where does that leave the residents and visitors of Franklin County?

The county commission has kicked this can down the road long enough. Over $22 million in taxpayer dollars has been spent on this issue, but on what, upkeep and maintenance of an antiquated facility and study after study and plan after plan that produce no tangible results?

In speaking to many folks about this problem, they do not have confidence in the current county board to adopt a solution that works for everyone and not just some. In fact, they raise valid questions:

  • ·        How much is being spent on patient care from every dollar collected?
  • ·        How much has been spent on infrastructure?
  • ·        How much has been spent on planning?
  • ·        Why aren’t we building a new facility?

If there was ever a call for accountability and transparency, this is it. If there was ever evidence that our county commissioners lacks leadership, this is it.

I trust our voters to lead the way out of the quagmire this issue has become. As a candidate for the District #1 seat to the Franklin County board, I support a binding referendum that would allow the people to choose whether to centralize a state-of-the-art hospital or emergency room/urgent care center with patient transfer staging capabilities or not. Only then will the county board have a mandate to act on this issue; only then will the county board truly be serving the will of the people.

Now, $24 million tax dollars later, we simply can’t afford to continue in the direction the current county board has forced us to travel. Let’s move healthcare into the 21st century in Franklin County. When I am elected commissioner from District #1, I will provide leadership that believes in listening to the will of the people and empowering their mandate in government.

Ricky Jones

The citizens of Franklin County deserve quality healthcare. Many thoughts and opinions have been expressed about this important topic; this is not a new issue for us here in Franklin County. Like many rural areas across America, healthcare can be a struggle. Our current facility is Weems Memorial Hospital located in Apalachicola. This facility is outdated. As our population has grown, our need for stability remains the same.

The direction to provide the best access to care took a turn for the better in 2008. This was the year that the Franklin County Commission asked you, the voter, to approve adding a one-cent general tax for healthcare needs in Franklin County. There have been issues over these last 12 years. We have had some improvements in healthcare here that the tax have made possible.

The residents of Franklin County need a new facility. I believe that our best available care should be a facility that includes an emergency room. There have been a couple of different proposals made in the last few years. I made a statement of intent as the representative of District 1 a while ago. I stated that Franklin County needs to get out to the hospital business. This wasn’t a promise, as some have stated. It was a purposeful declarative statement by someone doing their best to lead us out of the quagmire that we were already in.

I think it best to consider that any new facility here in Franklin County is not the end of this very important topic, which is the quality and availability of healthcare for all of our residents. We need to find a way to add multiple facilities. We have the current Weems Hospital and the Weems West Clinic in Apalachicola; Weems East Clinic is located in Carrabelle. We need a facility in Eastpoint and on St. George Island and it would be great to have something for the residents of the St. James and Alligator Point area. All real possibilities of our ever realizing these goals have been hindered by one thought: Our area should be first.

At a recent meeting, it was noted a vote was cast to choose the management company, Alliant, and their proposed partnership with Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, over the offer from Ascension Sacred Heart. I would like to clarify that I had voiced objection over any thought of this type of decision happening now and the reasons behind my objection. The county had already received notice the USDA loan that had been obligated for new facility construction was being de-obligated. The amount of time that had passed was the biggest factor in their decision.

The county had two proposals for the future of healthcare in Franklin County. Ascension Sacred Heart wanted us to build a new facility, close our hospital, and surrender our Critical Access Hospital designation. Alliant and Tallahassee Memorial wanted us to build a new facility, and turn over management to Alliant who would be in partnership with TMH for our healthcare needs. The two proposals had the same demand: A new facility.

We continue to face the uncertainties over the pandemic of COVID-19 and the restrictions we all are faced with in dealing with our new normal. This is not the time to add the burden of a new facility upon you, the taxpayer. Alliant has expressed they would manage our current facilities. My resolve and vision remain strong. We need better access to quality healthcare in Franklin County.

As a gubernatorial appointee on the Eastpoint Water and Sewer District board, I can share with you that the Eastpoint Water and Sewer board has voted to make land available for a new facility in Eastpoint. This five-acre parcel of land is available to any entity that would like to put a medical clinic or any other facility on it. This vote happened after the commission decided to pursue discussions with Alliant. Our offer doesn’t come with a Critical Access Hospital designation attached, but the offer stands.

Election 2020