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Answers to questions about new hospital

Mr. McKim’s recent Our readers write (‘The new hospital and the definition of ‘we’,’ Dec. 24, 2003) expressed some thoughts and concerns about a new hospital which I would like to address.
Mr. McKim asks if ‘we as a county’ will profit from this as a business, or ‘does this just create … a huge financial burden?’ I answer that the county has profited from Harrison County Hospital for many years. Last year the hospital provided about $2.5 million for indigent care, two-thirds of which went for Harrison County residents. This is cash which would be reimbursed from the county coffers to any non-county hospital, whether it was for-profit or non-profit. Indigent care is usually billed back to the county ‘ like University of Louisville’s agreement with Jefferson County/Metro Louisville. So it seems that the county has already profited from the hospital to the tune of over a million dollars a year for the last 20 years or so. This is also more than the amount the hospital board is asking from the council and commissioners.
Mr. McKim questions the purchase of ‘high-priced land.’ Here are the numbers: 40 acres were purchased for about $700,000 ‘ which was right below the appraised value. Two alternative sites were also closely considered, but one developer wanted nearly twice the appraised value, while another landowner wanted a couple million dollars. Some of our county officials suggested that the hospital board condemn the other properties, but the board has decided it didn’t want to go down that road.
There are some questions about a proposal from Jewish Hospital and Health Services. JHHS was not originally looking to help with a new hospital. Their first proposal was to the local physicians ‘ your doctors. It was a for profit venture, concentrating on siphoning off the profitable services ‘ basically jeopardizing the financial viability of HCH and endangering its ability to provide necessary but not-profitable services to the community. Your doctors overwhelmingly rejected this offer, as it was not in the best interest of your long-term health needs (although it would have been financially advantageous for the docs).
After that, JHHS went to the county council and commissioners and HCH board with a fairly nebulous proposal. Even Mr. Gary Davis, who is not particularly in favor of the new county hospital project, has told me that he couldn’t pin them down on what exactly they were offering, and what they wanted in return. (It is somewhat ironic that JHHS is opposing the construction of the heart hospital in New Albany, expressing concern about skimming profitable services ‘ even though that is exactly what they initially proposed to do here. See The Courier-Journal business section from Jan. 3, 2004.)
As to JHHS’s ability to run a hospital, their track record speaks for itself. However, don’t discount the local men and woman on your hospital board ‘ they have run HCH at a profitable level for 17 years in a row! This is better than 80 percent of hospitals the size of HCH, and they have done this without being reimbursed for the indigent care provided to our residents. And all of this has been put back into the local health-care needs, supporting services which typically lose money ‘ such as a 24-hour Emergency Room.
If you want to see what happens when outside interests run a local hospital, I suggest reading The Courier-Journal business section from Dec. 28, 2003. While Audubon, Suburban and Southwest were owned by Columbia/HCA, most of the profit was taken out of town and not put back into the hospitals. Since Norton has owned them, and reinvested the revenues, all three hospitals have improved greatly.
Mr. McKim feels that we have enough water supply where we are. Indeed, it is OK for the current building. However, any new building project must meet new fire and safety codes. That would require more pressure than the town’s line can deliver ‘ and the main would collapse if a pump were added at the end to draw the water out fast enough for a sprinkler system. This was found out when the board was studying the addition of just a few new operating rooms ‘ even with just that, there wouldn’t be enough pressure, and some type of storage tank would be needed.
In any event, hospitals need good doctors, and doctors need good hospitals ‘ in order to take care of you, our patients. If you build a substandard hospital, no matter whose name is on it, we won’t send you there for care. Currently, we are getting by, but, as standards change, we (and ‘we’ in this case are your physicians and surgeons) are going to need a new physical plant in order to provide you with the care you demand and deserve. We hope this happens fairly soon.
Dr. Stephen Bodney is chief of medical staff at Harrison County Hospital and a general surgeon with General Surgery Associates of Harrison County.