Funds to operate Urgent Care scarce

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By Alice Du Pont

"You are basically out of money to run the Urgent Care (at Gadsden Community Hospital)," Gadsden County Clerk of Court Nicholas Thomas wrote in a memo to county commissioners last week.

In the memo, Thomas said there is only $145,897 left in the fund that operates the facility, and that might not be a true picture of the financial outlook because of outstanding bills, including insurance, utilities and computer services. Once those are paid, the fund could be broke.

"Your use of internal service funds instead of direct cost blurs your actual cost," Thomas wrote.

The county used money from the interest of the hospital trust fund to operate facility, but the fund interest has, over the past three years, also been used for other expenses.

"These funds,” Thomas wrote, “are now depleted."

Shortfalls have caused the current financial problems. Several months ago, Cory Fleming, Urgent Care administrator, told commissioners that the facility was operating about $500,000 in arrears. At one point, he requested that commissioners allow the facility to require picture identification from people coming into the facility because bills sent for payment were being returned for insufficient addresses.

"If Urgent Care is going to continue, the board needs to immediately find a way to subsidize it to the tune of $742,000 annually, or $61,893 per month,” Fleming said.

Thomas, in a separate memo, informed commissioners there is no money available to pay for hospital equipment and startup operations.

There are few alternatives, Thomas advised, but if the board is considering using the principal from the $9.2 million trust fund to open the hospital, the solution will not be a permanent one.

"The hospital must quickly become viable or the county will be faced with the prospect of subsidizing it or closing it," Thomas wrote.

Thomas said the county withdrew $1 million from the trust fund principal in 2002 in preparation for an emergency takeover of the hospital after Ashford pulled out, taking the license with them and subsequently filing bankruptcy.

The takeover never materialized and $891, 000 was put back. However, $109,000 was used to pay staff, apply for a license and startup costs in 2002-3.

In other business, Ajax Construction Company, the company that was not selected as the low bidder to renovate the hospital but was given the bid by former county manager Marlon Brown, requested a final payment of $586, 138.90. The request, documents said, were reviewed and evaluated by Clemons Rutherford, who certified the final amount.

Commissioner Brenda Holt never got a second to the motion she made to pay the company. The dispute is now expected to be decided in court.

"Since the matter appears to be headed for litigation, I don't think it's proper to comment on it at this time. I would not want to tip my hand on this if it gets to court," said county attorney Thornton Williams.