Hospital Board Addresses Community Concerns

Directors Hoping for 11th Hour Miracle

By Will Johnson
Messenger Reporter

HOUSTON COUNTY – While Yogi Berra may not have come up with it, the Hall-of-Fame catcher is credited with popularizing the phrase, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

That seems to be the mentality the Houston County Hospital District (HCHD) Board of Directors has adopted as it settled into the batter’s box, trailing by one in the bottom of the ninth, with the bases loaded, two outs and looking at a full count.

HCHD Board

Last week, Little River Healthcare (LRH) announced it was ending its affiliation with Timberlands Healthcare at the end of June. LRH is the managing organization for Timberlands Healthcare in Crockett.

On Tuesday evening, June 27, the HCHD board found itself in a very similar scenario to the previously mentioned baseball scene as the board members faced more than 200 Timberlands employees and Houston County residents.

To their credit, over the course of the 90-minute meeting, the HCHD directors never flinched as they were peppered with question after question.

After dispensing with a minimum of agenda items, HCHD Board President Deborah Porth Blackwell read a prepared statement, before opening the floor for questions.

“As you know, the district was just informed, late last week of Timberlands (LRH) Healthcare’s decision to cease all healthcare operations on June 30 based on the financial circumstances of the hospital. The district was informed that the hospital continues to incur significant losses each month and that Timberlands and LRH no longer have the financial capability to absorb these losses,” Blackwell stated.

Blackwell emphasized the HCHD board was just as surprised and disappointed as those in the community about the cessation of healthcare operations.

Dr. Frank Smith

“Although it is not a surprise that the hospital has continued to struggle financially under Timberlands ownership, the HCHD had no indication that Timberlands was going to cease all operations and close the hospital until late last week,” she stressed.

Since that time, Blackwell continued, the board members have been working “… non-stop to evaluate any and all options to keep healthcare in this community.”

“The reality is that based on the timeline that was thrust upon us by Timberlands, the current financial resources of the district, the lack of a sufficient tax base to fully fund a hospital’s operations and the current environment of rural healthcare, the HCHD’s options are currently limited,” she stated.

The HCHD president said some of the options the board is exploring include:

Finding another partner to operate the facilities, including the hospital.

Finding a partner to operate certain services, specifically the Rural Health Clinic, possibly the ER and some of the other ancillary services.

Possibly having the HCHD, once again, take over some of the healthcare operations. The Rural Health Clinic was mentioned as a possible re-acquisition, if it was financially feasible.

Billy “Hollywood” Groves

“Unfortunately, all of the above options take time, which is something we do not have. We understand that these are very difficult decisions and we ask that you support our efforts and keep in mind the HCHD board is made up of volunteers who spend countless hours away from their businesses and families on HCHD business,” Blackwell concluded.

With that, she opened the floor for questions, comments and suggestions.   

Among the first suggestions made was possibly bringing East Texas Medical Center back to the Crockett hospital. Questions about critical care access were addressed as were many financial matters.

Asked if the HCHD board planned to pursue criminal charges, board member Tommy Driskell said he felt the board should, but added the matter was a two-pronged deal.

“We have already made phone calls on that and as far as I’m concerned – and I’m only speaking for myself – I have never seen anything as unethical as this in all my years of doing business. I feel we need to pursue this (against LRH), whether it be criminal or civil,” he said.

“That’s only one part of it. The bigger part of it is we have been working frantically on figuring out a way to keep the hospital open,” he said.   

For more on the meeting check back online or see part two of this article in the Sunday, July 2 edition of The Messenger.

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at [email protected].

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