By Tia Lynn Ivey Managing Editor
Commissioner Philip Clack announced a “formal request” to the Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC) to have a referendum on the new hospital before deciding whether or not to approve Morgan Memorial’s Hospital’s (MMH) request for an increase in aid to $1 million per year from the county. Clack made his request at the BOC’s work session on Tuesday, May 19. “This is not to say whether I am for or against the hospital,” said Clack. “But when I was elected I made a promise to the people of my district to listen and I have tried to fulfill this promise… That is why I am formally asking the board to consider a referendum.” According to Clack, many of his constituents have expressed the desire for a referendum concerning the new hospital project.
Andy Ainslie, chairman of the BOC, was perplexed by the request for a referendum, believing the public consensus has already been determined through the community assessment study in 2012. “I’m not sure what that means, simply because the needs assessments is a kind of referendum. The community has already communicated the need for a new hospital…It’s not exactly a referendum, but the needs assessment results from the community showed that we need a new hospital. That community analysis is very important and they never would have started this project without the support of the community in the first place,” said Ainslie. “From there, (MMH) needed to decide how to go forward, and how to get funding. They have been working on this for the last couple of years…really the last 20 years, we have been through this back and forth,” said Ainslie. Commissioner Ron Milton echoed Clack’s request for a referendum. “Not saying yay or nay on the hospital, but I am probably getting the same response from the citizens in my district that he (Clack) is,” said Milton. “I fully support that we need a good healthcare facility for the citizens of this county…but I, too, have heard people say the pros and cons…probably the majority of what I have heard is ‘I would like to have a say so whether or not we build a new hospital.’”
Milton went on to question if MMH’s fund increase request would even be enough to sustain the project. “Between the indigent care and the cost of building a new facility, I don’t know if a million dollars a year is enough to finance it, that would be one of my big concerns,” said Milton. Commissioners Donald Harris and Ellen Warren came out in support of the new hospital project. “Each district is going to look at things differently and you have to do what your district wants,” said Harris. “But I have been in the county all my life. I have talked to the powers that be and the powers that do not be, and 90 percent of the people I have talked to have all been positive. So you have to do what your district wants you to do, and I have to do what my district wants me to do,” said Harris. “I have taken many phone calls about this and explained this to people, and they have hung up deciding to support it,” said Warren. Warren also noted she encountered positive feedback as well. “Many people have come up to me to express their support. Once I have explained it, most have supported it.”
During the public comment portion of the BOC’s work session, Dr. Fred Bell spoke against the new hospital project, claiming the population of Morgan County cannot support such a costly new hospital and that MMH is being deceptive about its finances. “There are so many discrepancies in these finances,” said Bell. Bell adamantly opposed the project and urged commissioners to move forward with the referendum to give the citizens a voice in the matter. The BOC will revisit Clack’s request for a referendum at the next regular meeting on Tuesday, June 2 at 10 a.m., which is held at the Morgan County Administrative building located at 150 East Washington Street in Madison.