Early elections begin for Hospital District

Published 6:51 am Saturday, December 2, 2017

By Dawn Burleigh

The Orange Leader


Citizens had the opportunity to have questions answered on Thursday at a Town Hall discussing the Hospital District.

With approximately 200 residents in attendance for the meeting, information on how the election came to be and what a hospital district is was provided by Orange county Judge Stephen Brint Carlton. By statute, Carlton is not allowed to voice an opinion for or against the district due to being the county judge.

Points for the district were presented by Ross Smith, a local business owner, and for reasons against the formation of the district were presented by Mauriceville resident, David Covey.

Covey informed the audience that he holds the position of Orange County Republican Chair but was not speaking as a Republican but as a neighbor.

Lamar State College – Orange President Dr. Michael Shahan said the college and local radio station KOGT were cohosting the meeting to provide a forum to help decimate information on what the election means.

Carlton gave a history on the local hospital including that the hospital was sold to Baptist Hospital Systems in 2008. The county began the transition to sell the hospital in 1988.

“Ambulances have to go to an emergency room with a hospital,” Carlton said. “We knew we had to look for other options. For two – three years, we have been talking to other hospital entities without success.”

With the changes in health care, a larger hospital was no longer feasible.

In 2015, a study was conducted by NewLight Healthcare.

According to the study, assuming a new hospital would be built, it would need a location of 20 acres, and the facility would be 62,500 square feet with services including 25 beds, two operating rooms, one radiology room, 1 CT, one Fluoro, one mobile MRI, emergency room, and ancillaries. The location recommended by the study “Recommend consideration for the facility to be in a more centralized location such as 1442 and I10 or Highway 62 and i10 due to the necessity of building referral synergies for a new hospital provider. A more comprehensive study for the location could be done at a later date, however, a healthcare provider prospers through quality, location and convenience.”

Carlton also said the entity would be called Orange County Hospital District to distinguish where it was located but would the district would be it’s own entity not controlled by the county.

A district would allow for higher reimbursement rates for Medicare and Medicaid.

“The district would be responsible for all indigent care,” Carlton said. “Right now the county pays for it. By law, it will be provided by the county or the hospital district.”

Carlton also added, the board members for the district have not been selected as yet.

“I have not spent time on it because we don’t know what will happen,” Carlton said.

If the district is passed through the election, the court will appoint five members for the board. One will be from each precinct while the fifth will be an at large, for the whole county. The first members will serve a one or two year term then an election will be held for voters to decide who will hold the positions.

“The board is not paid,” Carlton said. “Travel expenses may be covered if needed, but I don’t see where they would be traveling to in Orange County. The board will not have a salary.”

David Covey said one reason to vote against the formation of the district is it creates a new layer of government.

“We deserve the best health care available to us in the county,” Covey said. “But how to go abut it.”

Covey also pointed out the district would be a new entity so it would create more taxes for elders, veterans and those on fixed incomes.

One citizen said his taxes were already frozen.

Taxes are frozen based upon the entities in existence at the time the taxes were frozen. A new taxing entity would create an added expense.

Covey also said the math shows the county could not afford the operating expense of a new hospital.

According to the study, the four reasons Baptist stopped providing services were due to:

  • Continued to decline in patient demand over the past decade
  • Continued reductions in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements
  • The loss of Orange Disproportionate Share funding (DSH)
  • Lack of medical specialists
  • Unable to qualify as a Rural Health Hospital or a Critical Access Hospital

“I believe the intent is good,” Covey said. “But we need to more homework.”

Ross Smith initiated the petition and spoke in support of forming a Hospital District.

“I was in shock at the hospital closing,” Smith said. “I can’t imagine being without a hospital.”

Ross said he understands hospitals are in business to make money.

“Baptist closed for two fold,” Smith said. “Lost faith and not investing in Orange. With the District, it is in our control.”

Smith added he, too, does not want to see an additional tax.

“The district is a funding mechanism to bring investors,” Smith said. “Baptist Hospital was one of the largest employers in the county. No hospital means no doctors. Who comes first the chicken or the egg? Without a hospital the doctors won’t come.”

Smith added timing is everything in an emergency.

“Voting no is gambling your loved ones will not have an emergency,” Smith said.

A West Orange resident said he agreed with both sides but had a concern of the monopoly Acadia Ambulance services had in the county.

An Orange resident said the specialists were not in Orange, the last one left because the hospital closed.

“Vote no,” he said. “We won’t get what we pay for.”

David Covey also pointed out the same conditions leading to the closure of the hospital still exist today.

“A hospital would be nice,” Covey said. “How can we make it happen without passing a tax without knowing what we are getting?”

Ross said the district would form the committee to provide people to look into this further.

“The goal is not to build a hospital,” Ross said. “the district brings additional funding to attract investors.”

A resident asked why it took so long and why wasn’t something done prior to the hospital closing.

“Baptist has owned the hospital since 2008,” Carlton said. “We received conflicting information from the citizen members board. We were told it was going fine and here are the projects we are working on.”

The hospital closed one week after Carlton took office as County Judge.

According to Carlton, the court was told the hospital needed more money to operate and each time they would speak with the hospital, the amount needed would double, increasing from a half million dollars to $4 million, when they stopped having meetings with the hospital.

A second Town Hall meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 5 at Cypress Center of Lamar State College – Orange.

Early elections will be Monday, Dec. 4 – Friday, Dec. 8 and Monday, Dec. 11 – Friday, Dec. 15 from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. with extended hours on Tuesday, Dec. 5 and Dec. 12 from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Locations for early voting will be at the Orange Public Library, Bridge City Public Works Building, Mauriceville Volunteer Fire Department, and Vidor ISD Administration Building.

Election will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017.