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Hospital debate continues

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By Alice Du Pont

"I can tell you where the problem is. It's always going to be money. Even with the new performance, we'll be losing over $600,000 a year," Gadsden Hospital Inc. Board of Directors Chairman Craig McMillan told Gadsden County commissioners Tuesday night during the commission’s regular meeting, speaking of the Gadsden Community Hospital and the ever-rising costs attached with opening it.

The latest big ticket item is the $241,300 needed to buy furniture. However, before one stick of furniture goes on a truck, the company wants half of the money up front, with the balance due at delivery.

There is also $43,000 needed to pay for the facade changes to the front of the facility. And commissioners have not made a decision officially on whether they will approve the purchase of new or used X-ray and CAT scan equipment. The operating expenses of the hospital, once open, could reach nearly $500,000 before the facility gets any money in its operating account.

"I know this is a sore point but we're going to have to take a look at that trust fund," said Commissioner Sherrie Taylor.

Commissioners authorized Bud Parmer, interim county administrator, to arrange a meeting with Capital City Bank trustees and Gadsden County Clerk of Courts Nicholas Thomas to discuss the trust fund. A special workshop to discuss the hospital will be held March 16 at 6:30 p.m. in commission chambers in the county's administration building.

Commissioners agreed that citizens were told that the half-cent sales tax would be used for the hospital. The reality is that only one-third of the funds from the tax are earmarked for the hospital. The other is designated for indigent health care. However, commissioners say they will now take a look at the half-cent sales tax with an eye toward using the entire amount for the hospital.

Despite the financial issues commissioners must tackle, the GHI board is tasked with getting the doors open and the facility operational.

"I need help. I need somebody on board who has expertise," McMillan said, adding that since Tallahassee Memorial Hospital has decided not to continue as consultant for the GHI, there are too many issues where personnel with a medical background and medical administration are needed.

"I felt like the passenger in the airplane who just saw the pilot jump out with the only parachute," McMillan said of TMH's decision. He said the board had relied on TMH to help get the preliminary work done toward reopening the hospital.

In their letter to the board, TMH officals said their staff would continue to consult with the board on the hospital at no cost. McMillan said he looks on that offer with a "jaundiced eye," because he made a request of TMH more than two weeks ago and has yet to receive a response.

TMH suggested that the board hire a hospital administrator and general manager, and get legal advice from someone who has been successful in navigating the paperwork maze required to get a hospital up and running. McMillan was authorized to meet with county personnel to advertise for a hospital administrator, a business manager and legal professionals with hospital expertise.

Several citizens said they were concerned about the type of equipment that would be purchased. McMillan said that, to the extent possible, furniture and equipment owned by the hospital will be used.