Hospital dismisses critics to plan

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By Tia Lynn Ivey

managing editor

Morgan Memorial Hospital (MMH) leaders held a casual public forum last week, inviting concerned citizens to discuss the results of the newly released feasibility study, deeming the controversial $35 million hospital replacement project as fiscally sound and sustainable. The feasibility study was conducted by Dixon Hughes & Goodman out of Atlanta.

“We have been accused of rushing this project or going about it secretively, but we have always aimed to be as transparent as possible,” said MMH CEO Ralph Castillo. “That’s why we are having this meeting. We are not required to do it, but we want to be transparent and open with the community.”

A handful of citizens attended to voice their concerns and reservations about the new hospital.

Alan Richman, president and CEO of InnoVative Capital, a banking and financial advisory firm specializing in healthcare facilities, described the results of the feasibility study as confirmation of MMH’s efforts to bring a new hospital to Morgan County.

“The validation of it all is the feasibility study. It’s a declarative document, taking into account the local tax support, the judiciously-sized project, the land donation, the fundraising, the clinical collaboration with Athens Regional Medical Center that provides doctors that will add more healthcare services, and the increased amount of patients those services will yield.”

According to Kyle Wilkinson, chief financial officer for MMH, the feasibility of a new hospital in Morgan County is vastly misunderstood by the public because of failure to consider MMH’s Critical Access Hospital (CAH) status and the 50 percent cost-based reimbursements from Medicare that comes along with that federal designation.

“Ultimately, the federal government will reimburse us 50 cents on every dollar for the cost of this,” said Richman. “That’s a huge piece of the picture that cannot be overlooked.”

Richman, spoke about the CAH program designed to help rural hospital succeed in modernizing their facilities.

“It’s a federal program that is not going anyway,” said Richman. “It has bipartisan support, loved by both republicans and democrats.”

Richman believes Morgan County has all the necessary components and outside support to successfully run brand new hospital facility.

“The hospital’s success is dependent on the quality of the community, the hospital’s leadership, the local tax support, the doctors provided through the clinical collaboration with Athens Regions, and the increased through put of patients that a new hospital will bring in,” said Richman. “That’s how the hospital will stay in business.”

Some of the citizens present at the meeting worried about Morgan County government’s $1 million per year commitment to MMH, especially if the hospital fails and ceases to operate.

But Richman argued that MMH always received an annual stipend from the county, ranging from $700,000 to $1.2 million.

“This is money the citizens were always paying. And now for $1 million a year they will get a brand new hospital with improved and expanded healthcare services…it works out to be like $19 dollar a person in total. And in the increase works out to be less than a Krispy Crème donut per month, per person. Think about what you will be getting for that price versus what you were getting before.”

Richman also addressed rumors that MMH switched to a USDA loan because they were “rejected” by HUD.

“Look, we went with USDA because their costs were less, their interest rates were lower, they are local and they have the money to lend,” said Richman. “I never submitted any documents to HUD. There was no turndown and anyone who says that there was is either a fool or a liar.”

Castillo is confident that MMH is moving in the right direction.

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but regardless of the negativity that is out there, this is a really good thing…we are about to deliver this great gift to the community.”

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