New Slate of Officers Elected

By Will Johnson
Messenger Reporter

HOUSTON COUNTY – The Houston County Hospital District (HCHD) Board of Directors has a new look to it after two new members were sworn-in and officers were elected during a meeting held on Tuesday, May 15.

As the meeting began, outgoing HCHD Board President Deborah Porth Blackwell read a prepared statement to those in attendance.

“The ballot proposition to lift the 15 cent cap on our tax rate set in 1989 – with the creation of the hospital district – was rejected by the voters. As we stated before the election, the board urged passage in order to raise our tax rate from 15 cents to 20 cents,” Blackwell read.

She explained the additional five cents would have gone towards covering indigent and uncompensated care, paying the ambulance service and paying off debt incurred by the district.

“These tasks now become more difficult,” Blackwell added. “No one likes tax increases, even modest ones. We understand the voter sentiment that drove the outcome of the vote. However, it is disappointing to know that the voters’ choice will cost the taxpayers an estimated $1 million in interest over future years. If we had the additional five cents, we would have been able to pay off the medical office building and our debt to Prosperity Bank 10 years sooner.”

Blackwell stressed the failure of the proposition would not affect the re-opening of the hospital “… as our investors made clear at the last meeting.”

Before she concluded, Blackwell informed those who were present the failure to pass the proposition could also hurt the HCHD because it would not allow for any unexpected contingencies which might arise such as additional cuts by the federal government to the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Following Blackwell’s address, the board members canvassed the votes. The results showed     the proposition failed by a count of 1,611 votes against the measure while 993 votes were cast in favor of uncapping the tax rate.

There were also four HCHD board positions on the ballot. In Position Eight, Blackwell was defeated by challenger Dina Pipes by a count of 1,575 votes for Pipes and 924 for Blackwell.

In Position Six, incumbent Jim Dowell decided not to seek re-election. Rhonda Currie-Brown was the only candidate to file for the position and she received 1,703 votes.

Dr. Bob Grier presents a plaque to outgoing HCHD Board President Deborah Porth Blackwell

In Places Two and Four, Dr. Perry Ramsey and Dr. John Stovall were unopposed. Ramsey received 1,703 votes while Stovall received 1,616.

Once the canvass was approved, Blackwell yielded the gavel to Dr. Stovall, the board’s current vice president. Stovall requested Brown, Pipes and Ramsey to come forward so they could be sworn-in.

After the board members had taken their oaths of office, board member Dr. Bob Grier recognized the outgoing board members – Blackwell and Jim Dowell. Dowell had a previous commitment and was unable to attend.

“Deborah has served this board tirelessly. I would like to read this plaque,” Grier said, as he presented the memento to Blackwell. “This is presented to Deborah Porth Blackwell for 26 years of meritorious service to the Houston County Hospital board. We are going to miss her tremendously.”

As the applause subsided, Stovall also expressed his appreciation to Blackwell for her service on the HCHD board.

“I have served with Deborah the entire 26 years she was on the board. She’s been a great help. She and I have collaborated on different items where she would ask for my opinion and I would ask for hers. When she took over as president a few years ago, I think she worked very, very hard to do the best that she could. So Deborah, you have my thanks,” Stovall said.

Following the presentation, Ramsey was asked to provide a report from the Nominating Committee, concerning their recommendations for board officers.

“The nominating committee consists of Carol Dawson, Barbara Crowson and myself,” Ramsey said. “We present our recommendations for the following: president – Bob Grier; vice president – Kathi Calvert; and secretary – Barbara Crowson.”

With no other nominations, the entire slate of officers were elected by acclamation.

“I would like to read a statement as we look next to be going into executive session,” Grier said after the board officers had been seated.

“The Houston County Hospital District is concerned about some of the allegations made recently regarding the debt that has been incurred and the financial transparency of the district. The district has recently received a public information request for certain financial information, which it is in the process of filling and complying with,” he said.

“I want to be clear,” the new board president stressed, “that all debt incurred by the hospital district has been debt the district was legally authorized to incur and was debt that was absolutely necessary for hospital and district purposes. The debt primarily consists of a line of credit that was used to operate the hospital after the ETMC lease was terminated and a promissory note for the purchase of the medical office building from ETMC that is connected to the hospital.”

Grier explained the HCHD board had been charged with spending the money “… with nothing to show. That is not true. During the time the board operated the hospital and continuing as Timberlands Hospital (Healthcare), the clinic saw patients. X-rays were taken. Babies were born here. Surgeries were performed. The ambulance ran and the emergency room saved lives. Finally, the employees – the majority of them Houston County residents – took home paychecks that directly impacted the Houston County economy.”

He further explained the board received a monthly financial report which was provided during the HCHD monthly meetings and also received an annual audit because the district is a public entity.

“The last few years have been some of the toughest years imaginable in rural health care. This district is not alone in its financial struggles and its struggles to maintain quality healthcare. There have been 82 rural closures in the United States since 2010, with 15 closures occurring in 2016, several of those here in Texas. There are several more that are still at risk. There are hospital districts filing for bankruptcy and some of the bigger healthcare providers in the country – CHS, Tenet, CHI, and even ETMC have lost millions of dollars, recently. This board has been working tirelessly over the last few years to maintain healthcare in this community during a challenging time for rural healthcare providers, including the retention of our state hospital license. The district appreciates the support of this community and will continue to maintain healthcare in Houston County, with the help of the new Crockett Medical Center,” Grier said, as the board retired into executive session.

When the board emerged from behind closed doors – approximately one and a half hours later – they took action on three contractual matters.

The first contract involved indigent and uncompensated care. It was approved by a vote of 5-2, with Brown and Pipes voting against the matter.

The second contract concerned the medical office building lease. This contract was also approved by a 5-2 margin, with Brown and Pipes voting against the matter.

The third contract pertained to the clinic building and was passed by a margin of 5-2, with Brown and Pipes voting against the matter.

In other HCHD board matters:

  • The minutes from previous board meetings were approved.
  • The district’s financial report for the month of April was presented by Dick Murchison and approved unanimously.

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