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Is a Hospital District the right choice?

Editorial by Bobby Tingle

 

Orange County Judge Stephen Brint Carlton has taken the leadership role in a local effort to raise awareness and support for pursuing a hospital district for Orange County. Orange City Manager Dr. Shawn Oubre led a small team over the past year seeking a way to maintain a hospital in the area. Their work laid the foundation for this phase of the process.

Gaining the support of local municipalities, industry, agencies and the public is a first step in the process.

Senator Robert Nichols and Representative Dade Phelan will then produce and propose legislation to the Legislature of the State of Texas for approval. From there the voters of Orange County will decide in an election whether to proceed and, if so, how to fund the district.

Ultimately, the decision to establish a hospital district will be made by the citizens of the community it will serve. A hospital district creates a public hospital with the power to tax.

Public hospitals are common. The public designation basically means the hospital accepts funds from the government to provide the care they give to patients. Public hospitals are not allowed to deny care to a patient, which is a stipulation of receiving the funds.

The power to tax is probably the characteristic of a hospital district, which will cause the most concern. The power to levy taxes is limited, but it is given when established. The State of Texas limits the district and voters may also limit the district.

According to Oubre, federal funding is available and is important.

With the formation of the district and the benefit of federal funds, the door may open to private investment. Without federal support private investment has steered clear.

After hearing presentations in two public forums, I have come to the conclusion those pursuing a hospital for Orange County have been directed by their search. It appears they began by seeking to find solutions within the current system. While doing so, Baptist Hospital has progressed through the steps of shutting down three departments in three years. Communication from Baptist has been poor and sometimes misleading. Therefore rejuvenating the current hospital has proven impossible.

With that door closed, the group began considering other options. Establishing a private hospital, with private investment is the top choice. However, there were few takers.

But, the search itself led them to consider hospital districts.

Baptist Hospital’s recent announcement of their intention to close emergency room services came as a shock to the whole community. Even those at the forefront of the search for answers were caught off guard.

Fortunately, a small group has done a tremendous service to the community. A study was commissioned and performed. This report is shedding light on the health care needs in Orange County. It provides talking points, market research and, most importantly, evidence of the need for a hospital in Orange County. The group has taken the report, analyzed it, and is seeking solutions.

I believe we must give strong consideration to pursuing a hospital district.

I am concerned about the taxpayer money involved in funding the district. Federal funds seem like a windfall for those receiving them. When those funds make a hospital in Orange County a viable option, it is easy to be swayed to accept those funds. But federal funds come with demands that must be fulfilled. Those funds will likely only add to the national debt, which is already too high.

I am also concerned about the power to tax established by the district. Local property taxes are too high now.

Whether you are a homeowner, business owner or industrial plant owner, you know well the reality of making those annual property tax payments. We don’t need someone else increasing the burden.

I am, also, concerned about our need of a hospital in Orange County. Our citizens need the health care and jobs a hospital provides. Our economic growth and development are dependent on establishing a hospital in Orange County.

Support this effort as it takes life. Ask hard questions and expect truthful answers as it progresses.

We need a solution we can all be happy with.

 

Bobby Tingle is publisher of The Orange Leader.   You can reach him at bobby.tingle@orangeleader.com.