Hospital subsidy: ‘will it continue forever?’

Published 1:34 pm Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Claiborne government entered into a lease agreement in 2014 with Covenant Health to run the Claiborne Medical Center under a 10-year contract. It is now time to pay the piper as funds from the escrow account from that deal are about to run dry. The county will have to dig deeply into its coffers to come up with the $13,750 per month ($165,000 per year) to continue paying Covenant to run the hospital and its ambulance service. The document gives Covenant Health an option to continue the lease agreement beyond the original 10 years which, according to the county attorney, has been renewed for the next two years.

The agreement also provides for the yearly purchase of an ambulance – this time, at a cost of some $175,270.

Only problem is, the county will now have to step up to the table as it begins paying for continued services.

The Claiborne Commission adopted a resolution Monday evening, Dec. 18, to move $146,000 from the Undesignated Fund Balance into the Contributions Fund in order to cover the escrow shortfall, which currently holds just $139,410.74 – not enough to cover the funds required for the continuing lease agreement with Covenant Health.

Commissioner Carolyn Brooks asked whether the county could change anything in the lease agreement prior to moving into the next two-year phase of the contract. She was met with a “no” from some of the commissioners.

Claiborne Finance Director Eric Pearson said the county would need to come up with the funds to cover the full subsidy during the 2024-25 budget process.

Pearson said that, as long as a lease agreement is in place, the county is obligated to continue the annual payments.

Commissioner Steve Brogan spoke of the ambulance service.

“I can tell you this; it’s (the ambulance service) not working. When you have to have an ambulance come from Pineville because we don’t have anything here, at the time that that takes – it’s not working. Now, I’m not putting the blame on anybody until we get answers and hopefully, that’s what we’ll do next month,” said Brogan, referring to his request to have the Covenant Health/CMC director at the January meeting.

County Attorney James Estep III responded.

“I’m not questioning what you’re saying, Steve; but if you’ve got 350 or 450 ambulance calls a month and you’ve got one (forced to wait)– they may be pretty efficient,” said Estep.

Brogan countered by questioning the efficiency of the ambulance service.

“I can tell you they’re not (efficient). It’s gone on for years, but it’s never been to the point as it is now,” said Brogan.

Commissioner Gary Poore spoke of his personal experience last year during a health issue.

“I think we’ve got a good ambulance service, we’ve got some good people working up there. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be here tonight. I had a heart attack last year. They got to me quick,” said Poore, adding that it took the truck 12 minutes to travel the eight miles to arrive at his home.

Commissioner Mitchell Cosby agreed, saying that the service “saved” his mother’s life about six years ago.

Commissioner Dustin Wilson responded.

“It’s not necessarily the EMTs and the drivers. It’s management. Two weeks ago I waited for an ambulance for two hours in Clairfield with a wreck and the only reason they came is because the Sheriff’s Department finally hollered at them and said a patient was requesting them.

“I think there’s a problem too, that I think needs addressed. I know every EMS station in Tennessee and Kentucky is short right now. I think it’s got more to do with management and dispatch. If someone calls one out for a wreck, I don’t care what it is, you should automatically get EMS rolling but they didn’t that day. We had to call and ask them,” said Wilson.

He said he agreed with Brogan that the commissioners should be able to get their questions answered but that he did understand the stresses and low salaries the ambulance service employees contend with, being a part time volunteer himself.

“I would like to talk to him to see how we can get better response times,” said Wilson.