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Concerned Citizens of
Franklin County, Inc.
PO Box 990
Eastpoint, Florida32328
(850) 653-5571

Sign The Petition!

on Wednesday, 06 March 2019.


Health Care in Franklin County: Let’s All Join Hands

In last month’s installment, (See ‘A Big Gamble,” in Feb. 7 Times), we discussed the challenges of spending millions in annual revenue, more than $18 million to be precise, from the 1-percent health care sales tax instituted in 2007, on Weems Memorial Hospital and its clinics. Each year, about $1.2 million in county money is used to subsidize the facilities, and yet where is the success story?

Patient volumes had dropped steadily over the years, and increasingly Franklin County patients are opting, when they can choose, to use the emergency room at Sacred Heart for their urgent medical needs. Or to use one of the specialists, such as orthopedic care, located in Port St. Joe. Sacred Heart has placed a primary care practice and orthopedic rehab facility in Apalachicola, and shortly, another facility in Eastpoint.

All this points to a future where Sacred Heart will draw more and more patients away from Weems.

What is the county’s answer?

Build a new/remodeled facility in Apalachicola, go into millions of dollars in debt, and they will come.

Who will come?

Attracting patients who require specialty care is based on the hope – and that’s what it is, a hope - that a new facility will magically lure specialists and primary care doctors who so far, despite the promises of one CEO after another, have been unwilling to relocate here. Has there been an effort to forecast exactly whether, and how, those long-simmering hopes will be realized after a new facility - with a largely unchanged level of services available to patients - – is built?

Certainly, a new facility would not hasten the continued drop in the volume of county patients who seek care at Weems, but what evidence is there it would increase it? Especially given the fact Sacred Heart has steadily made inroads into the county, and Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, with its loose “partnership” with Weems that mainly offers bulk-buying discounts on gauze and gloves but hardly a stream of physicians to use them, has not.

The county commission is poised to move forward with a more than $10 million Phase I expansion of Weems, a plan that has languished for years, and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in consultant fees. As it stands now, if the federal loan goes through, and that is by no means a done deal, then the cost for building will be borne entirely out of the health care trust fund. That fund has amassed only $3.5 million towards a project that will unquestionably require in excess of the $10 million borrowed.

Look at another way: the annual debt service on the loan will be somewhere around $750,000 a year. Looking over the last 10 years, where would that $7.5 million have come from? Remember, there is only about $3.5 million available for capital costs today; all other trust fund money (and more) has been spent.

And what happens if the same forces in health care – a small patient base, a limited number of available doctors, declining reimbursements and the tremendous cost of obtaining state-of-the-art technology – prevent the hospital from realizing its hopes for a massive turnaround based on a new facility?

The taxpayers have to foot the bill until the many millions in loan dollars are repaid, with that money continuing to be diverted from what should be its most overriding goal –to improve health care outcomes by funding the health care professionals who provide it, the primary care nurses and doctors on the front lines.

The bottom line is that building a new hospital is a tough decision, and one best left in the hands of those who know the most about the subject.

It is praiseworthy that county commissioners are itching to move forward with a new facility, given the fact that for so many years it has languished.

But now is not the time to cross our fingers and hope for the best. Now is the time to remove any blinders we have on, or doubts we may have, and do the right thing.

Before any final decision is made by the county commission to sign on the dotted line, there needs to be a series of public workshops that focuses on a clear agenda that provides answers to the following questions:

  • What is the current state of the Weems finances, and that of the Health Care Trust Fund, in specific, transparent and comprehensive terms?
  • What are the reasonable, foreseeable estimations as to what the numbers will be one year after the facility is built? Five years? Ten years? If we miss these targets; what is our exit strategy?
  • What will be the demonstrable and direct effect a new facility will have on health outcomes in the county?

These three questions, and several more, need to be answered before a final decision is made to assume a long-term debt based on hope.

One key step in this process should be the blending of the current hospital board, which focuses entirely on Weems, into a newly created countywide Health Care Board under the auspices of the county commission. This sort of independent-minded Public Health Trust, such as is found in so many Florida cities, would have the job of analyzing and coordinating all the county’s precious health care dollars so as to make the most of them.

If it means better funding ambulance service, then so be it. Making more clinical services available, then ok. Cutting back on wasteful spending, then that too. Whatever it takes to make sure county residents are getting the most out of their limited supply of health care monies. Let’s not waste this money just because it’s there.

The place to begin is now, before the county has committed itself to millions in additional spending, nearly all of which will be going to non-health care professionals and for which there is no going back. In the final analysis, history has proven that we have had difficulties in managing good outcomes, either financially or clinically. We must take a deep breath.

Let’s not just cross our fingers. Let’s join hands. If you believe that it is appropriate to take a breath and listen to the people from Apalachicola to Alligator Point, please go to:

ABetterFranklin.com/Petition

And sign your name requesting the county not move forward to all the citizens have had a chance to interact with their county commission on an issue that is of fundamental importance to them personally and is the most decisive decision that commissioners will make for a generation.