Sheriff Jonathan Benison meets with GCHS Board; commits to change ‘bingo rules’ to provide major support to save hospital

By: John Zippert,
Co-Publisher and Chair of GCHS Board of Directors

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The Board of Directors of the Greene County Health System (GCHS) Board met with Sheriff Jonathan Benison and his electronic bingo staff twice in the past three weeks, on August 25 and September 12, 2017 to urge him to take action to support the hospital, which is in danger of closing due to financial problems.
The GCHS Board submitted a letter to Sheriff Benison on August 30, 2017 placing in writing its suggestions to help the health care system in Greene County.
These suggestions included: collection of a 4% tax imposed on bingo machine operators, in June 2016, which has never been enforced or collected; raising the per machine fee, paid by bingo operators from $200 to $225 and giving those proceeds to support the GCHS on a monthly basis, and other steps to help the hospital become more financially self sufficient.
In the meeting, this week on September 12, 2017, Sheriff Jonathan Benison and his attorney Flint Liddon and bingo staff announced that he was going to change Section 4 of the electronic bingo rules to provide an additional $25 assessment, on all bingo machines, in all five bingo establishments, in Greene County, with the funds going to the Greene County Health System to support the hospital, nursing home, physicians clinic and other services.
This change will be instituted effective November 1, 2017 to allow the bingo establishments time to adjust their budgets and operations.

Currently, based on data provided by the Sheriff and his staff, there are 2,032 bingo machines at the five bingo establishments in Greene County which means that based on current numbers, the GCHS would receive $50,800 per month from the proceeds of this rule change. The Sheriff said that he thought that the number of bingo machines in the county would hold steady at around 2,000 or above.
This means that the GCHS could expect to receive $600,000 per year in support from electronic bingo in the county sanctioned under Constitutional Amendment 743.
Rosemarie Edwards, a Board member from the Boligee area, said, “I want to thank the Sheriff for his decision to increase the fee on each bingo machine by $25. This will help to keep the hospital open and provide needed medical services for Greene County residents. I hope people in the community will support the Sheriff in his new bingo rules.”
Eddie Austin, Board member from the Forkland area, indicated, “I know of a person, within the last week, whose life was saved and stabilized by the Greene County Hospital Emergency Room. We all need our hospital to stay open and offer quality services. I commend the Sheriff for responding to our pleas for support.”
Pinnia Hines, Board member from Eutaw and former employee said, “With the commitment from the Sheriff to change bingo rules and provide substantial support for the hospital, nursing home and associated services, we will have certainty and stability to keep the facilities open. I thank the Sheriff for his decisions and I urge the community to support and unify behind these necessary changes.”
In response to a question from the Board, about what the Sheriff will do if the bingo operators do not agree to and comply with his per machine fee rules changes, Sheriff Benison said, “ I hope they will agree but if they don’t, I will have no choice but to enforce the rules and close down those who do not pay the funds to support the hospital.” Hank McWhorter, the Sheriff’s Bingo Enforcement Officer pulled out some large pre-printed stickers, which would be attached to the doors of those bingo establishments that did not comply with the new rules changes.
Attorney Liddon stated, “We do not really know how much money is passing through these bingo machines but we are sure it is enough to meet the conditions of these rule changes. We know the operators will not like these changes and may cry out that they are too expensive, but the Sheriff is determined to go forward to make these changes to assist the hospital.”
John Zippert, Chair of the GCHS Board, said, “We welcome and support the Sheriff’s decision to raise the per machine fee by $25 to assist the Greene County Health System. This infusion of $50,000 a month will be a significant and substantial help to the facility to meet its deficit of $100,000 per month. Our monthly deficit is roughly equal to the ‘uncompensated care’ we provide to low-income people from Greene County each month.
“The Board and the people of Greene County we represent, thank the Sheriff for his rule change and support for the GCHS. The Board will work with the people to find the rest of the revenues and savings to erase the deficit. More Greene County people must use the GCHS facilities and services; we must fill the 20 vacant beds in our nursing home; we must fully utilize the three doctors and two nurse practitioners in the health clinic; we must fully utilize all the services of GCHS.
“Our Board will also seek support and contributions from other public and private sources, including the Greene County Commission, the State of Alabama, Medicare, Medicaid, private foundation grants and other support. We will also work for better state and national health policies which will treat rural people and facilities fairly and recognize our contribution to the nation’s health care status and the well-being of our people.”

Mia Jordan wins BBQ grill

Grill.jpgGreene County Associates of the Black Belt Community Foundation held a raffle of a BBQ grill at the festival. Mia Jordan of Eutaw (3rd from left) won the first prize in the raffle. W. Hamm won the $50 second prize and Mr. Gee, a blues musician from Montgomery won the $25 third prize. In photo are Greene County BBCF Associates, from left, John Zippert, Darlene Robinson, Jordan and Geraldine Walton.The raffle generated more than $1,200 for the work for the Black Belt Community Foundation.

Hospital Board vows to keep facility open

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.

ANSC to hold Spring Convention in Montgomery on Saturday June 10

 

Doug Jones, Sue Bell Cobb and Walt Maddox

 

The Alabama New South Coalition (ANSC) is holding its Spring Membership Convention on Saturday June 10, 2017 from 8:00 Am to 3:00 PM at the Wind Creek Casino, Rambling Hall on Eddie L. Tullis Road in Montgomery.
The ANSC is a progressive statewide political organization, formed in 1985-86, in the aftermath of the Rev. Jesse Jackson campaign for President to work for a “Change for the Better – in Our Lifetime” in Alabama. The ANSC’s sister organization, the Alabama New South Alliance endorses candidates running for state and local offices in Alabama.
The membership convention will have luncheon remarks by three Democratic candidates, who expressed interest in running for Governor of Alabama in 2018 – former U. S. Attorney, Doug Jones, former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Sue Bell Cobb and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox.

After the planning and invitations went out, Governor Kay Ivey decided to hold a special election for the U. S. Senate seat, vacated by Jeff Sessions, in November of 2017. Doug Jones then decided to run for this seat. Other Democratic and Republican candidates for the U. S. Senate seat will also be introduced and have a chance to address the group.
There will be two panels in the morning for members. The first will be about strategies for voter engagement, registration, education and turnout. The second will be a group of younger members of ANSC speaking about how to interest, attract and involve younger people in community building and change activities.
Senator Hank Sanders will give a talk on the “Current Political Landscape in Alabama” to start the program. John Zippert, State President and other ANSC officers will comment and provide direction for the work of the organization.
The meeting is open to all members of ANSC and those interested in joining. The organization has active chapters around the state that will be bringing members to attend. The registration fee for the Convention, which includes breakfast and lunch, is $25.00. For more information, contact Shelley Fearson ANSC State Coordinator, at 334/262-0932 or email; ALNewSouth@aol.com.