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.”

Sheriff Joe Benison meets with Hospital Board to discuss bingo funds

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L to R: GCHS Board members: Margaret Bir, Sheriff Benison, Lucy Spann, Elmore Patterson, Jasmine Smith, Pinnia Hines, Shirley Edwards and Rosemary Edwards. Not shown are Eddie Austin and John Zippert who also attended the meeting.

Greene County Sheriff Jonathan “Joe” Benison, together with his executive assistant and bingo clerks, met with the Greene County Health System (GCHS) Board of Directors as part of their regular meeting on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss with the Board their concerns over the status of payments from electronic bingo parlors to the GCHS, which operates the hospital, nursing home, physicians clinic and home health services.
On June 2, 2016, Sheriff Benison adopted a new rule for bingo which stipulated that the Greene County Hospital was to receive a fee of 4% of the amount paid to vendors, who provide bingo machines, to be paid to the hospital for providing health care services to the residents of Greene County.

The Sheriff adopted this rule change as a way to share some of the revenues generated by electronic bingo, under Alabama Constitutional Amendment 743, with the Greene County Health Care System.
Based upon estimates from the bingo clerks, Elmore Patterson, CEO of the Greene County Health System projected receiving $3,500 per month from each of the four operating bingo parlors as of June 2016. This would total $14,000 per month or $168,000 per year.

The GCHS Board informed the Sheriff that since adoption of the rule in June 2016, the health facilities have not received these 4% fees from the vendors. The GCHS has received an average of $5,133 per month for the hospital and $ 1,104 per month for the residential care center (nursing home). These averages include a one-time payment of $30,000 from Greenetrack and smaller donations as a sub-charity from all of the bingo operation. The Anchor Group, the charity operating the River’s Edge Bingo facility is the only operation that has been paying the 4% vendors fee under the Sheriff’s rules.
Sheriff Benison said that he understood the Greene County Health System’s concerns with the shortfall in the 4% vendors fee.
He said that he wanted to discuss this with the bingo operators, including the Palace Bingo, a new electronic bingo hall at the Knoxville Exit on Interstate 20/59. He said that after he consults with the bingo operators that he and his clerks would report back to the GCHS Board of Directors.
Elmore Patterson thanked the Sheriff for attending the meeting and said, “Health care is critical to Greene County. The GCHS is providing quality health care to residents of Greene County and surrounding areas. I just reported to the Board that we had an overall operating loss of $538,000 for the first six months of this fiscal year, which began October 1, 2016. This loss matches the half a million dollars of uncompensated care that the GCHS provided to Greene County citizens, during the same time period, with limited incomes who lack insurance or other health care payers. We are looking to electronic bingo, the county government and others sources to help us cover our deficit which basically comes from serving the people of our county who are poor and not covered by any health insurance.”
All of the GCHS Board members also thanked the Sheriff for coming and listening to the concerns of the community. The members said they hoped to hear some positive response from the bingo establishments and the Sheriff in the coming weeks.