By Will Johnson

Messenger Reporter

CROCKETT – After nearly four years, it appears as if the journey embarked upon by the hospital in Houston County has reached its destination.

The voyage started with the hospital known as ETMC – Crockett, but will finish with a new nomenclature after negotiated agreements between Little River Healthcare, LLC and the Houston County Hospital District (HCHD) were signed on Tuesday, Sept. 27.

The formal signing took place during the monthly assemblage of the HCHD Board of Directors and was the last actionable item on the board’s agenda.

After moving through the previous nine agenda items, HCHD Board President Deborah Porth Blackwell said, “We will now move on to the most important item of the meeting and that is item number 10.”

The agenda item read, “Consider, and if necessary, take action to: I) approve the Lease Agreement,hchd Operations Transfer Agreement, Indigent and Uncompensated Care Agreement and any other related agreements by and between Houston Country Hospital District and Timberlands Healthcare, LLC d/b/a Little River Healthcare – Timberlands Hospital (“the Agreements”); and authorize Board President to take any actions necessary to complete and give effect to the transactions provided for in the Agreements.”

When she finished reading the formal agenda item, Blackwell said, “This is the time where we will sign all the agreements for Little River to lease the hospital. The lease itself is fair market value. They will be retaining all the employees and this board of directors will be the advisory director for Little River. It has been a long concerted effort on both parts. I’m pretty excited about it. At this point, before we have any further discussion, let me go ahead and read the resolution.”

The resolution, as read by Blackwell, stated, “Whereas, the Lease Agreement, Operations Transfer Agreement, Indigent and Uncompensated Care Agreement, collectively known as the agreements between Houston Country Hospital District and Timberlands Healthcare, LLC d/b/a Little River Healthcare – Timberlands Hospital have been presented to the Board of Directors and will provide: 1) the District will lease Little River the hospital known as Houston County Medical Center and facilities; 2) the operations of the hospital will transfer to Little River; and 3) Little River will provide medical and hospital care to the district’s needy (and Indigent) inhabitants.”

The resolution further stated, “Whereas, the Board has reviewed the agreements and the transactions described in the agreements will better enable the district to carry out its purposes and continue to meet the healthcare (needs) of Houston County, Texas. And, whereas the Board has determined it is in the best interest of the District to approve the agreements and any ancillary documents related thereto and to execute and deliver the performance obligations under the agreements and such ancillary documents and that the terms of such documents are satisfactory to the Board.”

“Now, therefore be it resolved,” the resolution concluded, “That the board hereby adopts the following resolutions: 1) the Board approves the proposed terms of the agreement and substantially the form presented to the Board and transactions contemplated therein; 2) the Board authorizes Deborah Blackwell and the officers and representatives of the District, acting individually or jointly, to finalize the consummation of the agreements and to execute the delivery of any and all agreements, certificates and instruments and to take any and all actions necessary or advisable, to completely give effect to the transactions contemplated by and provided for under the agreements; 3) the findings of the Board of Directors specified in the preamble provision of this resolution are hereby incorporated into the body of this resolution as it will be set forth for all purposes; 4) the Board of Directors hereby ratifies and approves of all actions of any officers of the District heretofore taken in relation to the resolution hereby approved. Adopted by the Board of Directors on Sept. 27, 2016.”

Once the resolution had been read, Blackwell asked for a motion to adopt the resolution. After the motion had been made and seconded, Blackwell asked if there was any further discussion on the matter.

HCHD Board Member Bob Grier commented, “I think this is an auspicious turning point for the community in that the Board has worked hard and Little River has met us more than halfway. They have met us farther than that. I really appreciate thjeff-madisone efforts of the board members and Little River. I think we are heading for some great times here at the hospital. Things are looking very bright.”

Little River Healthcare CEO Jeff Madison, who was in attendance for the meeting, remarked, “I just want to say again how honored we are that you guys chose us to join with you. I would like to commend the Board publicly for the efforts you put in salvaging and saving healthcare for Crockett, when you took those steps so many months ago. I can only imagine how many sleepless nights you had as you envisioned what you had done here and ultimately what it would take to lead to the larger success of this hospital. We are honored again to partner with you, at this point, to continue what you began and we want to be a major resource for this community. We hope the community will continue to take pride in this facility and we are very thankful to be a part of it. Thank you for all of your efforts. This isn’t the end of your effort, it’s just a new chapter but we can definitely see a very positive light at the end of the tunnel, based on what we have experienced, up to this point. The future is very bright. I think this time next year, we will be looking back at this year and celebrating a lot of good things. On behalf of Little River and on behalf of Timberlands, I just want to say thank you.”

Board member Barbara Crowson added, “We are so honored to have on our board a variety of members who have come together with a different areas of expertise in this long, long process.”

With no further discussion, a vote to adopt the resolution was taken and passed unanimously, followed by the signing of legal documents by Blackwell and Little River Healthcare COO Peggy Borgfeld.

After the meeting had adjourned, Madison discussed his company’s new venture. “This will be the fifth hospital in our portfolio. We have three in Texas and two in Oklahoma. We’re in the business of helping to save rural facilities and to partner with rural communities to provide better access to quality healthcare,” he said.

As far as the official name change to Timberlands, Madison explained, “We will go through the process of notifying all the appropriate parties we have contracts with in the next several weeks. Forms will begin to change, letterheads will begin to change, domain names will begin to change and we will begin to order the signage. As you can imagine, it is a process that is not easily done overnight, but we hope to have the visible aspect of the name change effective by our grand opening celebration planned for the early part of November.”

Madison also indicated the only major change he could foresee for the hospital was a desire “… to outgrow the financial problems we had. As we bring in additional surgeons, it will mean that we will need to bring in additional staff. Hopefully, the overall trend of the job base associated with the hospital is upwards. It will have to be for us to accomplish what we want to accomplish.”robert-torres

Blackwell also commented on the lease signing following the meeting’s adjournment. “We have always had the intention of finding a partner. As soon as we took over from ETMC, we were on that mission. When Little River came into the picture, we felt it was a good match because we felt their mission was the same as our mission. That mission is to provide quality healthcare to a rural community and bringing the specialties and physicians to the community rather than sending the patients elsewhere. It has been bumpy, but we survived and now we have nothing but positive things to look forward to,” she said.

As far as the role of the hospital board, Blackwell explained, “Little River has assured us they will give us operational information on a monthly basis so we can see the progress of the hospital. We will not have any control over what services are provided, but we have as a requirement they will have at least the services that are provided when they took over. I know they intend to increase the services. The continuing role of the board will be to make sure the lease agreement and all the other documents are properly adhered to and we will be assessing and collecting taxes just as we have over the last 20 years when ETMC was operating the hospital.”

She thanked the finance council comprised of Bob Grier, Jim Dowell and Tommy Driskell (and herself) for the hard work they put in towards reaching the agreements. “We also can’t overlook the work of past (board) presidents Larry Christopher and Patrick Evans and what they did for the progress of how we got to where we are. Larry was pretty much responsible for getting CHC on board and Patrick was the one who got the management agreement going with Little River. I guess I stepped in and kind of finished it up. Everyone says it’s going to be easy from now on,” Blackwell said with a laugh.

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.