The Board of Directors of the Greene County Health System, which includes the Hospital, Nursing Home, Physicians Clinic and Home Health Care Services, based in Eutaw, said that it will work to keep the facilities open despite widespread ‘community rumors’ and media coverage which suggested that closure was imminent.
John Zippert, Chair of the Board said, “We face many challenges to continue to operate a small rural hospital with 20 beds and a 70 bed nursing home but we have been six months from closing, nearly every month for the past twenty years that I have served on this board.”
“We need the support of the residents of Greene County, Black and White, to use our facility and services. We need the support of all public officials. We need the support of churches and other community organizations.
“We need better support from the Sheriff and the five charity electronic bingo facilities in Greene County to cover deficits in our budget caused by serving low income people in Greene County. Last year, as a public facility, we turned no one needing health care away and provided over $1.4 million in services to Greene County people for which we were not paid. This is called “uncompensated care” in the jargon of health care,” he said.
In the midst of these issues, the Board received a letter of resignation from Elmore Patterson, who has served as CEO and Hospital/Nursing Home Administrator for the past four years. Patterson submitted his resignation, dated August 30, at the July board meeting. The Board declined to accept Patterson’s resignation and urged him to reconsider.
Patterson said at this, the August meeting, that he still wanted to resign but would stay until the hospital finds a replacement. “I do not want to leave you without a suitable replacement but I have tried for four years and I do not feel I have the support of the community for this healthcare facility. I want to move on to other opportunities but I will assist in any way I can.”
Zippert suggested a comprehensive search process, similar to the one used to recruit and employ Patterson, which would require 60 to 90 days from announcement to selection. A committee of the board or the whole board needs to be involved in the process.
Patterson pointed out that many of the financial problems of GCHS are based on insurance reimbursement rates. “Medicare pays us about 65% of the charges that we bill; Medicaid pays us only about 32% of the charges that we bill; these are our two biggest payers accounting for two thirds of our patients. Private insurance, which is less that 10% of our patients, pays 70-80% of charges. The remaining quarter of our patients, due to low income, are unable to pay for services but we treat them anyway.”
“When Alabama refused to extend Medicaid to the working poor, under the Affordable Care Act that put more pressure on us. The uncertainties of ‘repeal and replace of health care’ coming from Congress and the President have also placed more pressure on us and all healthcare providers, especially rural hospitals and nursing homes,” said Patterson.
Zippert said some of the charges on television and in the news media are ‘fake news’. For instance, “Some officials are charging mis-management and misuse of funds and calling for an audit. We have a private CPA audit each year, which is approved by the State of Alabama and the Federal government. We must have an audit and a certified cost report to be able to get any reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid. These audits do not show any mis-management of funds,” Zippert said. Patterson brought the last six annual audits to show the board. These audits are available for inspection by the public
At the end of the meeting, all GCHS Board members agreed to work together, with public officials, especially Sheriff Joe Benison, to find long and short-term solutions to keep the facilities open.