Fireworks At Hospital Board As Election Looms

By Greg Ritchie

Messenger Reporter

HOUSTON COUNTY – The Houston County Hospital District (HCHD) board met Tuesday, Jan. 22 to discuss expanded funding for MidCoast hospital, but the board’s internal fractures came to life once again, as elections for several positions are set for May 4.

The meeting, originally scheduled for the week prior, was postponed due to the stormy conditions in the area. The main topic of discussion was to discuss whether HCHD has the authority to fund charity care, uncompensated care, underinsured care, along with the currently funded indigent care. 

There has been blowback from one side of the board regarding indigent care, saying the county is paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to those who claim they cannot pay for care, while the other side says this information cannot be shared, due to HIPPA laws. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 guarantees patient confidentiality and would seemingly preclude the board from receiving any kind of individual information regarding patients, where they live, or their ability to pay. 

MidCoast Hospital Administrator Kent Waters told the board most people do not bring back the forms, which the hospital cannot follow up on, causing them to consider the patient “indigent,” if they claim they cannot pay their bill, or do not bother to bring back documentation to prove they are indigent. 

Board Member Rhonda Brown pointed to legislation outlining a minimum hospital boards should pay when it comes to indigent care, claiming Houston County pays far in excess of that. Board Member Roy Langford responded by recognizing this, but saying HCHD had signed a contract with MidCoast to pay the current amount, regardless of what minimums may exist. 

Langford became frustrated with the back and forth, at one point raising his voice saying, “That’s what our contract said, that was the majority vote of this board and I am going to vote that way until I am voted off this board.”

Langford did, in fact, lose his reelection bid to the board last year to Tammi English McCreight, before he was reappointed after several months of deadlocked voting failed to elect another candidate. 

Dina Pipes said she was concerned about all care paid for by the county as, “uncompensated” care, asking for written authorization from the HCHD attorney that the county should pay for other types of underinsured or charity care before proceeding. 

Pipes complained the hospital could not even verify the recipients of care are from Houston County. 

“We are giving money for anyone who wants to come to our hospital,” Pipes said. “We will be the county insurance for anyone who wants to come to the hospital, spread the word!”

“That’s how emergency care works,” answered Waters. 

HCHD Board President Barbara Crowson said the board had been under the gun to find an operator for the hospital facility, given the short amount of time and the resources the county had, when the previous operator decided to leave.  The motion to consult with the attorney for clarification passed. 

Another point of contention was a proposed reimbursement check for Barbara Crowson for $248.50 to attend a MidCoast corporate meeting in person, for her mileage to and from the meeting. Crowson told the board she serves on the MidCoast board, something several board members took issue with, although some sources tell The Messenger it is common for hospital board members to serve on hospital advisory boards, in order to be better informed about hospital operations. 

Asked to give an account of the meeting, Crowson declined. 

“These are not open meetings. There is no audience. Their agendas are secure and totally confidential,” Crowson said. 

The board voted to reimburse Crowson the money, but questions were asked whether or not this was a conflict of interest. Crowson said she attended this particular meeting in person, but attends most meetings by video conference. 

HCHD board elections are set for May 4, with the deadline for those interested in participating in those elections set to close Friday, Feb. 16 at 5 p.m. Applications for a spot on the ballot can be obtained at 1512 East Loop 304, Building 200, Suite 100. 

The positions open for election this year are:

  • Place Two: Pam Ainsworth
  • Place Four: Roy Langford
  • Place Six: Rhonda Brown
  • Place Eight: Dina Pipes

As of press time, there was no word on which incumbents will seek reelection or who else might have signed up to be a candidate. 

Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]

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