Henry County Medical Center has specified what kind of help it wants from the county to assist the hospital’s Emergency Medical Services financially — asking for a five-year plan in which the county would buy one new ambulance a year.
During Thursday’s meeting of the county Budget Committee, Charles Dyer, chief business development officer for HCMC, and Twila Rose, EMS director, appeared to relay HCMC’s request. Lisa Casteel, CEO of the medical center, had spoken to the committee last month but could not attend Thursday’s meeting.
EMS, the ambulance service that is part of HCMC, loses hundreds of thousands of dollars most years, and Casteel came forward to ask the county for help.
The cost of a new ambulance is about $150,000 to $180,000 a year.
The committee didn’t make a decision or recommendation Thursday, since HCMC will not present its full budget proposal for 2019-20 to the panel until July 8.
Some committee members, while sympathetic to the situation that EMS is in, didn’t seem eager to commit to a five-year plan, though.
“This all goes back to the challenge that rural hospitals are having these days with reimbursements,” County Mayor Brent Greer said.
“I have a problem with a long-term commitment without knowing where that money’s going to be coming from in five years,” said committee member Jack Veazey.
Committee member Kenneth Humphreys inquired about the option of only agreeing to buy one ambulance and then proceeding year by year.
“Well, you’re right, if we went with a five-year plan, there would have to be a dedicated source of revenue (to pay for that entire period),” Greer said.
The question of what would happen after the first five years also seemed troubling to the committee.
“I think we ask ‘How is this going to help the hospital correct the problem after five years?’” Greer wondered.
“We don’t want them (HCMC) to adjust their business model based on them assuming that we’re going to buy them an ambulance every year,” committee member Melanie Dodd said.
James Travis, a budget committee member who is also on the HCMC Board of Trustees, spoke in favor of helping the EMS situation.
He also pointed out that “it’s really a political issues. There’s plenty of money available that could help the hospital (and thus, the EMS) but the state won’t take it.”
He was referring to the state’s continued refusal to accept federal money for Medicaid expansion, which has had a negative effect on the state’s hospitals.
Greer said he was looking into similar situations involving other county-owned hospitals in the state, such as in Hardin and Loudon counties.
In other business Thursday, a brief discussion of the upcoming year’s budget revealed that Greer expects the budget committee to vote on the proposed budget at the July 8 meeting, and the Henry County Commission to vote on first reading on July 15.
He said he had received final figures from the state that show one penny on the county’s property tax rate will generate $58,335 in revenues.