Special Report: Hospital District Election — Options after the votes are counted

Photo courtesy of Glen Rose Medical Center

Photo courtesy of Glen Rose Medical Center

Last in a series

By Kathryn Jones

Editor

If this Saturday’s hospital district election passes, this is what happens next:

The hospital district would become effective immediately. The new temporary board would be seated and remain in place until May 2014, the earliest date by law that the district would be able to elect a board and members with full terms.

The period from the election until the end of next January, when most of the county’s tax revenue is collected, would be a “transitional period” for the district, according to Ray Reynolds, Glen Rose Medical Center’s chief executive officer.

The district then would be required to prepare a budget and provide information for the board to set a tax rate.

“We, as a hospital district, would be required to be even more transparent with our budgeting process in terms of having public meetings, just like the county, to review the budget, and hearings,” Reynolds said.

The hospital district’s projected tax rate is 10 to 12 cents per $100 of appraised value on property. The cap on the rate is 17.5 cents, meaning that’s as high as the rate can go without a county-wide vote. The rate can go up only 8 percent, or 1.4 cents, a year.

The big wrinkle in the equation is that the county’s largest taxpayer, the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant, has seen a significant decrease in value, falling to $2.539 billion.

“In doing our projections, we’ve tried to be very conservative in terms of what we think the value of the Comanche Peak plant will be,” Reynolds.

That’s the first scenario.

If the hospital district election does not pass, this is likely what will happen under the second scenario, according to interviews with hospital and board officials:

First, the hospital will continue to operate as it has – for the short term.

“We’re not talking about closing in six months, we’re talking about in the long term,” Reynolds said.

The current Hospital Authority Board will have the responsibility of looking at the options. The next step would be to put out a request for proposal to operate the hospital, Reynolds said.

Lake Granbury Medical Center likely would respond to an RFP since it has repeatedly said it is interested in reaching an agreement with GRMC. That has alarmed some supporters of the district who worry that Lake Granbury likely would try to direct patient traffic away from Glen Rose to Granbury and might do away with any services that would duplicate the ones it already provides.

“They wouldn’t duplicate any services,” Larry Shaw, hospital authority board chairman, said. He added that one area that likely would be cut if Lake Granbury leased the Glen Rose facility would be GRMC’s surgery department.

Reynolds agreed.

“It’s just good business sense for them to consolidate first, non-clinical services, which would mean jobs for Somervell County, and then the other is the clinical,” Reynolds said. “Does it make good sense to have a surgery department at Lake Granbury and a surgery department here?”

David Orcutt, Lake Granbury’s CEO, told the Somervell Commissioners Court earlier this year that it would make “no sense” for his operation to buy or lease GRMC and then shut it down. But he did not spell out exactly what Lake Granbury would do in terms of cutting services in Glen Rose.

The next big question, according to Shaw,  is, if the hospital district does not pass and GRMC is leased, would  physicians in Glen Rose stay?

“I believe some of our doctors would leave,” Shaw said. “They have told me they’d leave. In a short period of time, we would be pared down from a hospital to not much more than an ER clinic.”

Some hospital district opponents said they believe that’s all the county and taxpayers can afford – an emergency room, triage center and a helicopter pad to transport serious medical cases to larger medical facilities.

“I cannot believe that we are going to create yet another organization to tax us ever more than today for things we do not need and cannot afford,” Glen Rose resident Robert Taylor said in a letter to the Glen Rose Current.

“We do need a good emergency room and triage center to save lives when time is of the essence,” Taylor continued.

“If you put the hospital people in charge of building their own empire at the taxpayers’ expense, you are doing each and every citizen of Somervell county a great disservice,” Taylor added.

Other letters to the editors and Facebook page comments from hospital district opponents over the past several months have expressed similar sentiments.

The election and its heated debates have sparked heavy voter interest. Early voting totals have been strong. Somervell County Elections Administrator Cathy Thomas said 895 people voted in person early, with 176 of those voting on Tuesday, the last day for early voting.Twenty-four ballots also were received by mail.

On Election Day, this Saturday, voting in the hospital district election for  all precincts and all registered voters will take place at the County Annex Conference Room. The closest entrances are 206 Elm St. (old Post Office entrance) and 102 N.E. Vine St. across from Hollywood & Vine Restaurant.

Voting in the city election (registered voters living in the city) for mayor and city council will be at Town Hall. Polls for both elections will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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