2018-02-15 / Front Page

Pending HB 827 could be salvation of hospital

By SPARKY NEWSOME
editor and publisher

Wills Memorial Hospital and close to 50 other struggling rural hospitals in the state of Georgia could be only about a week away from having an answer to their financial woes and threats of shutdown, according to discussions and announcements made at last Thursday’s Wilkes County Board of Commissioners meeting.

Commission Chairman Sam Moore thanked Rep. Trey Rhodes and Rep. Tom McCall for their efforts in putting together the legislation and garnering its support. He said he had talked with “a lot of senators and representatives and found no one who was against it.”

Starting last year, taxpayers who contributed to qualified rural hospital organizations (RHOs) located in Georgia could be awarded a 90-percent tax credit. In addition, donors received a federal charitable contribution deduction. This new legislation would increase the tax credit to 100 percent. Contributions can be designated to any of the RHOs in the state, one of which is Wills Memorial Hospital.

Last year, Wills Memorial received about $300,000 in qualifying contributions and if this legislation passes, it is estimated that the extra incentive might produce over $1 million, which would cover the hospital’s annual shortfall.

Moore said he has made hundreds of phone calls to representatives over the past six weeks and discussions on the plight of the hospital and a 2018 legislative solution go back as far as the legislative breakfast last December.

“We have talked about a lot with them and they communicated what they thought would be the best way to help rural hospitals,” Moore said. “This was probably the easiest and quickest thing to do and it also could raise the most money.

“It will take some effort but this is a good step forward for the state legislature to help rural hospitals. I wish it could have come sooner but I think it is the best and easiest solution to address some of our financial problems,” he added.

Predicting that the measure (House Bill 827) could pass in the next couple of weeks (now about a week away), Moore pointed out that much of the problem rural hospitals face financially has been caused by the federal and state governments through cutbacks and unfunded mandates.

“But the state has stepped up and we’re really proud of our legislators who have pretty much led the push to get this done. I don’t think it would have happened without them,” Moore said.

“Maybe this will be the thing to save not only our rural hospital, but a lot of them,” he concluded.

County Attorney Charles LeGette, who also represents the Wills Memorial Hospital Authority, spoke up to specifically thank Moore for his efforts. “It all started with him,” he said.

“If we pull this off, it’s going to give us a vehicle to save our hospital. And it wouldn’t have happened without those hundreds of phone calls the chairman made. This is a statewide change that he has been able to orchestrate with Trey Rhodes and Tom McCall.”

Moore said that he had been confident all along that the legislation would go through. However, according to LeGette, even statewide lobbyists in Atlanta had said “that this was impossible and that it was not going to happen. And Sam Moore said, ‘Watch me.’”

Moore took a broad approach, pointing out that 50 hospitals in the state are part of the program and about half of those are the true rural hospitals which still have not been acquired by larger hospitals or conglomerates.

“I told them from the start that this could be helpful not just for our rural hospital, but all of them,” he said. “It was the common sense approach to take, especially because the money was already appropriated.”

LeGette was excited in speculating that Wills Memorial could realistically raise more than a million dollars this year.

“The hospital has a million dollar shortfall every year and this lets us fund it without having to raise property taxes. This is huge,” he said. “We can go from $300,000 last year to well over a million this year without an increase in property tax. You’re basically shifting state income tax money from Atlanta back to Washington, Georgia, or any of the state’s rural hospitals in the program.”

More information on the Rural Hospital Tax Credit program can be found online at dch.georgia. gov or Georgiaheart.org.

All of the commissioners, including Clem Slaton, Charles Jackson, Ed Geddings, Esper Lee, and Moore, were in attendance at the meeting last Thursday, February 8, in the Wilkes County courthouse. Also in attendance were County Clerk Karen Burton, EMA Director Blake Thompson, LeGette, and a few visitors.

Joe Harris, chairman of the Kettle Creek Battlefield Association, presented an original oil painting to the county as a gift from the KCBA.

“It is a representation of the battle and the Kettle Creek Battlefield Association wants the county to have it for the people of Wilkes County so that they know our history and where we came from,” Harris said.

He went on to explain that Dwight Harley, a retired veteran of several wars and friend of the KCBA, commissioned the artist, Jeff Trexler of Pennsylvania, to do the work.

“Dwight has done a lot for battlefield art development and has spent over $100,000 out of his own pocket toward that effort,” Harris reported. “He has really helped us when we needed it and without him it would not have been possible to be where we are.”

The painting (shown in the accompanying photo on page 1) will be hung in the main hall of the Wilkes County courthouse.

In other business:

. LeGette reported that some 30+ years of ­Wilkes County ordinances have now been codified into a uniform organizational structure and will eventually also be available online for the public.

. Thompson reported that the EMS answered 255 calls during the month of January including 43 transfers and 212 emergencies. He also reported that there was at least one confirmed flu-related death – a 61-year-old Wilkes County woman who died in Augusta.

As coroner, Thompson reported that he handled 13 deaths during January.

. LeGette reported that there had been some question concerning the right of way and its limits at Boyd Road as it goes past the cell tower at the edge of Highway 17. The matter has been clarified and the commissioners authorized Moore to sign the deed. “We’re not giving up anything. We’re just agreeing where the line is,” LeGette said.

. Burton reported that Local Option Sales Tax received for the month of December was $69,030.62, Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax was $106,200.58, and TSPLOST was $95,794.43.

. At Thompson’s request, the Commission adopted a list of “annexes, resolutions, ordinances, and certifications” to be included in the county’s Local Emergency Operations Plan.

The next regular meeting of the Board of Commissioners will be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 8, in the Wilkes County courthouse with a work session immediately prior in the chairman’s office beginning at 5 p.m.

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