Commissioners get hospital loan pitch

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By Tia Lynn Ivey

managing editor

Morgan Memorial Hospital (MMH) officials presented the details of the recent USDA loan approval to fund the construction of a $35 million new hospital to the Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC) last Tuesday.

Terry Evans, Morgan Memorial Hospital Authority (MMHA) chairman, emphasized the historic nature of the loan.

“I come to you with some really, really good news,” began Evans. “The USDA has allocated the $35 million to build a new hospital…this is the largest allocation of monies the USDA has ever done. For them to do that speaks highly of the procedure and of all the hoops we went through to get this done…we went through seven different levels of approval,” explained Evans.

Evans also sharply chided anyone who still opposes the new hospital project.

“This county has needed a new hospital for years and years…after all we have gone through to get this approved, after all these eyes have seen it and all these eyes have approved it, if anybody still opposes a new hospital now, they obviously care nothing about the citizens of this county or their healthcare,” said Evans. “We hope this will be smooth sailing here on out until we lay down the very first brick of the new hospital.”

MMH CEO Ralph Castillo also addressed the BOC, thanking them for their role in making the USDA loan approval possible. “We couldn’t have done this without the county increasing the indigent care subsidy to $1 million a year,” said Castillo.

“Thank you for helping us with the indigent care money you are giving us so we can afford to build this new hospital,” said Evans.

Castillo noted that MMH currently provides $10.5 million in economic impact each year to Morgan County and that figure is anticipated to jump up to $14.3 million after the new hospital is built.

“It is a tremendous economic engine for this community,” said Castillo.

Kyle Wilkinson, chief financial officer for MMH, reported to the BOC on MMH’s current financial situation.

“We are doing fantastic financially,” said Wilkinson, who noted MMH has had over $500,000 in net income for the last two fiscal years.

Castillo reiterated the value of MMH to the local community and the cost that would be incurred the county if there were no hospital at all. Castillo also explained why it was so vital for the MMH to secure the USDA loan before January 1, locking in to a 2.375 percent interest rate. “As of January 1, the rate jumped to 3.375 percent, which would have cost us $7.5 million more in interest over the life of the loan,” explained Castillo.  “We have saved millions but securing the loan when we did. ”Castillo also emphasized the USDA rigorous approval process and their satisfaction with not only MMH, but with the clinical collaboration between MMH and Piedmont/Athens Regional.

“I know that has been a contentious bone for some, but this should put that to rest,” said Castillo. “There is no reason that we should not go forward to deliver this great asset, this great gift to our community,” said Castillo.

Commissioner Andy Ainslie praised MMH for their diligence in pursuing a new hospital for the community.

‘”I am excited for you all,” said Ainslie. We are doing quite well in so many aspects of our community and you all are part of that. I am very proud of where we are headed as a county.”

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