Citizens question need for hospital district

Published 10:07 am Wednesday, February 1, 2017

By Dawn Burleigh

The Orange Leader


While the answer of how the county will proceed in the next step of forming a hospital district, there are still many unanswered questions.

Orange County Commissioners Court will circulate a petition as the first step towards being the formation of a hospital district before the voters of the county.

When the court was questioned on their opinion on forming a hospital district, the opinions varied.

Orange County Judge Brint Carlton is unable to voice an opinion due to holding a judicial position. He is only permitted to provide information.

“I would love to tell you, but I cannot say,” Carlton told the over 100 people in attendance.

Commissioner Barry Burton said he needed more information.

“It is so new into this it is hard to make a decision,” Burton said. “We need a hospital for our local senior citizens. To have a plan will be easier to decide.”

Losing the hospital is critical to the growth of the area according to Burton who explained the closing of the emergency room at Baptist Hospital as the first step of a downward spiral.

Commissioner Johnny Trahan said it was time to think outside the box.

“We have to try something different,” Trahan said. “The questions will remain until a Board is selected. I think it is worth pursuing and to put pressure on the Board.”

Commissioner John Gothia said part of the courts’ job is to maintain services to citizens.

“I have done endless hours of research on this trying to educate myself,” Gothia said. “I would love to know the tax rate. We may never need it [the hospital], I hope we don’t. But if a $100 over 10 years is $1,000 and a loved one needs a hospital and is stuck in traffic, how much is that $1,000 worth then?”

Gothia also said he is in favor of forming a Hospital District at this time.

Commissioner Jody Crump reminded the crowd, the court was not involved in the decision to close the emergency facility at the hospital.

“A district can apply for state and federal funding,” Crump said. “Are those funds readily available? Are they set to sunset out? I have concerns on the structure of the district. I don’t have the answers yet and I am asking lots and lots of questions.”

Another citizen asked if here were provisions for disbanding the district if needed.

Carlton did say there are steps for disbanding a district but was not as familiar with the process as he was researching how to form a district.

Another concern citizens had was funding indigent care.

Currently the county pays between $400,000 to $600,000 a year in indigent care. If a hospital district is formed, those costs would fall to the district and could be supplemented with state and federal funding.

While many residents questioned why the current facility could not be used versus building a new facility, Baptist Hospital is a privately owned corporation. A board would have the option of contracting with the current company or decide a new smaller facility would benefit the county.