Garrard hospital is closing

August 21, 2003|EMILY BURTON

LANCASTER - After years of battling a mounting deficit, the Garrard County Memorial Hospital board voted Wednesday to begin the suspension of operations and eventual closing of the hospital. The basement room was silent as board members completed a unanimous vote, some holding back tears.

"We had trimmed down our wages, we had trimmed down our employees, we had done everything we ought to, and we were still loosing money," said Loretta Rinthen, chief financial advisor.

According to hospital reports, the facility generated $3,030,842 in revenue in the last six months, while incurring $3,358,538 in expenses. The long term care facility and hospital accounts payable totals over $2 million.

$4.4 million still owed on loan

In June of 2001, the Garrard County Fiscal Court borrowed $4.5 million from the Kentucky Association of Counties to help subsidize the hospital. As of this month, the hospital still owes $4.4 million of that loan, said Rinthen.


Rinthen said that Medicare was partially to blame for the amassed debt, only paying an average of 55 percent of the hospital's charges.

"Just because we charge that amount, doesn't mean we will get that money," said Rinthen.

"Medicare, Medicaid and third party pays put us in a position we couldn't recover from," said Smith.

Rinthen said she expected the hospital to keep operating on a deficit should it stay open. To prevent an insurmountable deficit, Smith presented the board a letter to be sent to the Cabinet for Health Services, asking to suspend hospital operations while retaining its certificate of need and license. The license is needed to collect on open accounts and insurance claims and can later be transferred to the Christian Care Center, the new name of the long term care facility.

Closing date will be advertised

Currently accepting patients, the hospital will close its doors no earlier than Aug. 29, said board chairman Leonard Smith. The exact closing day will be advertised in local newspapers in advance.

"The transition committee is going to look to the business office to remain open to pay bills," said Smith.

While the hospital closing is imminent, Smith stressed that the doors have yet to be locked for good.

"We have suspended operations, rather than terminating operations, and there's a big difference in wording," said Smith. "We cannot just lock the door and take the sign down. We have a legal process we have to go through."

Currently, the hospital offers only laboratory services, X-rays and a pharmacy. Despite rumors to the contrary, mammography services are still being performed, said Rinthen.

Discussion continues on emergency room service

There has been quiet discussion of a possible emergency room service being created in the future, but details are sketchy, at best.

"Nothing definite has been arrived at. There has been a great interest in the community about having critical care," said Smith.

"They'd like an ER. Well actually, they'd like a hospital," said board member Brenda Powers, who reported she had been receiving multiple complaints from citizens.

"The community may be worried, but at the same time, I don't think they are going to be agreeable to appropriating the tax money to cover unknown deficits," said Smith.

Two hospital doctors resign

Prior to the official vote to begin the suspension process, Smith was handed a resignation letter from two hospital doctors.

Doctors Steve Green and James R. Werkmeister resigned from practicing acute care at Garrard Memorial, citing the hospital's lack of adequate malpractice insurance coverage.

"I would have expected better support, let's just say that," said Smith.

As the final days of the hospital loom closer, no plans for its future have been finalized. However, Care Centers Management Group Inc., of Johnson City, Tenn., agreed to buy the two facilities for $1.45 million last week.

"No management agreement has been signed and no date has been set by Care Centers," said Ed Montgomery, chairman of the long term care facility.

When the somber meeting came to a close, Smith said he was honored to have served on the board, though he wished his timing had been better.

"I have already seen tears shed over this," said Smith, "and I do not like residing over this board during the end of it."

"What will come out of this ... be it an emergency care center or a vacant room, depends on the people of Garrard County," said Montgomery.

"Ed is absolutely right," said Smith. "It's got to come from the community."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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