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Everyone has to jump on board for hospital to work, say city, county officials

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By Alice Du Pont

Construction on Gadsden Memorial Hospital is complete, according to Clyde Collins, construction manager, but the building cannot be released for occupancy until it is furnished.

Collins was asked to give a construction report to the Gadsden Hospital Inc. Board of Directors on Monday. But although the building is complete, nothing more can happen until it is furnished. The Agency on Health Care Administration cannot complete its final inspections and release the building until this is accomplished.

The county has to wait until a judge decides whether to allow access to the hospital trust fund for more than $2 million to pay for furnishings and equipment. Ashford Healthcare, the leasing company that was operating the hospital when it was closed by AHCA, is in the final days of a bankruptcy hearing but through an agreement made years ago, the company can sue the county for two-thirds of the trust fund, which is estimated at $9 million.

The county also needs money to immediately hire an administrator and controller or hire a management company to run the hospital. The responsibility of selecting the speciality furnishings and equipment will fall to the new hire. Most companies can take between 3 and 6 months to deliver hospital equipment and furnishings. Many also require a minimum of half of the total cost as a downpayment and the other half on delivery, Collins said earlier this year.

"We haven't done anything (about hiring) because we told them that without money we can't do anything," GHI board chairman Craig McMillan told the Gadsden County Board of Commissioners.

Eugene Lamb, commission chairman, told GHI that the county doesn't have any money. He thanked the board for all of their hard work and assured them that he supported their efforts 100 percent. He said what they are doing now should have been done when the hospital closed in 2005. Lamb said the health council is looking to receive one-third or more of the half-cent sales tax. He added most people in the county don't understand the tax or how it's divided. A majority of the voters who supported it thought all of the money was going to the hospital, he said.

"Some people campaigned that the half-cent was going to the hospital. They deliberately mislead the citizens of this county. They are nothing but a bunch of noise makers. It's not but a handful of them. They have no insurance and no money. All they have is talk," Lamb said.

One commissioner, he said, told citizens that the county had $40 million. The commissioner was talking about how much was projected to come from the half-cent sales tax over the 30-year duration of the tax.

"That commissioner knew that people were thinking the county had $40 million sitting in a pot somewhere and continued with that lie. I've had people ask me why we don't use that $40 million. It's bad when you have elected officials going around lying to the citizens," Lamb said.

Shelia Atkins, who has been a member of the GHI board for 2 years, said citizens are blaming the board because of misinformation or someone intentionally misleading the public.

"My concern is that the citizens have really been misinformed. The citizens have the right to know the hardcore truth. I have been sitting here when people have called us racists. The citizens do not know the truth," Atkins said.

McMillan said not only have citizens been mislead but the GHI board was not told the entire truth either.

"Everybody was misinformed. We were misinformed when we were given by a previous attorney a document that would not work," McMillan said.

The only way the hospital is going to open and stay open is that citizens who have insurance or those who have money use it, Lamb said. But, he added, the facility must have proper equipment and proper staffing for people to trust enough to go there for service.

Jack McLean, Quincy city manager, agreed. He said if people really want a hospital, all of the municipalities are going to have to buy in and help the county. McLean said for years Tallahassee gave Tallahassee Memorial Hospital funds until it became self-sufficient.

"It's now or never. If we want it we're are going to have to come together. All of the elected officials from all of the municipalities are going to have to work together if this is what we want for the county," McLean said.

Lamb called McLean's suggestion a good one but added that the county has not enjoyed a good relationship with municipalities other than Quincy.

Michael Glazer, GHI attorney, said the county has three choices: operate the hospital, lease it to someone else or continue with only the UrgentCare Center.