Solidarity meeting held to support electronic bingo in Greene County

Nat WinnGreenetrack CEO Luther “Nat” Winn addresses Solidarity meeting

 

On Tuesday, November 21, the Black-Belt Solidarity Committee held a meeting at the Eutaw National Guard Armory in support of Greene County Constitutional Amendment 743 authorizing electronic bingo in Greene County. The Solidarity Meeting Committee consisting of Val Goodson, Beverly Gordon and Patricia Edmonds sponsored the meeting.
Two hundred supporters of bingo attended and heard statements from community political and organizational leaders in support of electronic bingo and its benefits to the community.
The meeting was held in response to a recent lawsuit filed by Alabama Attorney General Mike Marshall to stop bingo in five counties around the state including Greene, Lowndes, Macon, Morgan and Houston where bingo has been authorized by voter support of Constitutional amendments.

Sheriff Joe Benison spoke and said he enjoys serving the people of Greene County with his staff of 34 employees and encouraged unity in the face of the attack on bingo by the Attorney General.
Hodges Smith speaking on behalf of the Greene County Volunteer Fire Associations said, “ Before bingo, we had to raise money for fire trucks and other equipment selling hot dogs and hamburgers. It was very difficult and we could not get all of the up to date equipment we needed. We do not want to be pushed backwards into the dark ages again. We need to stand together for bingo.”
Johnny Isaac, Chair of the E-911 Board also spoke in favor of bingo and the need for unity in view of the attack on Amendment 743.
John Zippert, Chair of the Greene County Health Systems Board of Directors said, “We received a distribution of $39,375, for the month of October, from four of the five bingo establishment this week which helped the hospital to meet payroll and expenses to continue to provide health services in Greene County to people who do not have any insurance.”
Mayor Raymond Steele spoke of the benefits of gaming to the City of Eutaw and other municipalities in the county that receive bingo funds. County Commissioner Allen Turner reported that the County Commission used bingo funds to match Federal funds for road and bridge repairs, which stretched the funds and made them to further to help the people of Greene County.
Luther ‘Nat’ Winn, CEO of Greenetrack said he was pleased to see people standing together to protect what we have. “I hope this sends a message to AG Marshall not to come to disrupt the jobs and economic progress we have made through electronic bingo.” Winn continued, “ I want you to know that we are not going to close our operations this time. If the state comes, I for one am going to stand in the doorway of Greenetrack and stop the State of Alabama from disrupting a gaming industry that employs hundreds and supports the county agencies and schools of Greene County. This is a part of our voting rights and civil rights and we are not giving up without a fight.”
Commissioner Marcus Campbell of Sumter County and Probate Judge Crawford of Hale County also spoke in support of unity to keep Greene County bingo working because it provides employment and other benefits to residents of their adjoining counties.
The Solidarity meeting was adjourned and a monthly Greene County Fire Association meeting went forward.

We must all work together to save our hospital and health services

News Analysis

Dr and Robert

Dr. Salahuddin Farooqui, MD attends patients on his rounds at Greene County Physicians Clinic

By: John Zippert, Co-Publisher and Chairperson of Board of Directors of Greene County Health System (GCHS)

We, the citizens and leaders of Greene County, must work together immediately and urgently to save our hospital (20 beds), nursing home (70 beds), physicians clinic, and home health services, which are grouped together as the Greene County Health Services. This is a public non-profit corporation, whose board of directors is selected by the Greene County Commission.
As a small rural hospital our future and finances have been clouded by the uncertainties surrounding Federal health care policy, the refusal of Alabama’s Governor and Legislature to expand Medicaid funding to the working poor, the low reimbursement rates for Medicaid and Medicare recipients and the high level of poor people in Greene County that we do not and cannot turn away for needed health care services.

GCHS needs your support to stay open.

Another problem, we have, is one that we are all responsible for and can solve. Many of us in Greene County do not use the health facilities and doctors at the GCHS like we should and must if the hospital is to be there when we have an emergency and need it most.
Our Emergency Room (ER), which is staffed 24/7 is available for emergency injuries and life threatening conditions at home, on the job and on the highway. Many Greene County residents and others on the Interstate Highway have been medically stabilized and their lives saved by the ER. Once they were stabilized, we were able to send them to other facilities, by ambulance or helicopter, for more intensive care and treatment.
A community that wants to grow and attract industry and jobs must have an operational health system or industry will pass us by. One of the first questions a prospective industry asks is whether there is a health facility, in the community, that can respond to safety concerns and emergencies for employees at their plants, offices and business locations. If we are forced to close the hospital, we will loose the chance for industrial development and we will loose the jobs of the people who work at the facilities.
We have twenty vacant beds in our Residential Care Facility (Nursing Home), which should be filled up. There are Greene County elderly in nursing facilities in other places who could be at home getting the same or better care closer to family and friends.
We also provide swing beds for Medicare 21 day rehabilitative hospital stays. You will receive the same services as in other facilities. We have trained physical, occupational, speech and other therapists and nurses on staff and you will be closer to home. It is up to you to insist upon returning to the GCHS facilities for health services even if other facilities are aggressively promoting you to go elsewhere.
The GCHS has faced tight financial times for many of the twenty-five years that I have served on the Board of Directors. In recent years, the financial pressures have mounted and the facility has no cash reserves. Our patient mix is one third Medicare, one third Medicaid, 5 to 10% Blue Cross-Blue Shield and 25% with no insurance or payment source.
The GCHS, as a small rural facility, we receive 65 cents for each dollar billed to Medicare; only 32 cents for each dollar billed to Medicaid; 75 to 80 cents for private insurance payers and nothing from people without insurance. Our Administrator says: “Our Medicaid reimbursement is like walking into a store and paying $1 for a $3 dollar gallon of milk. The store could not stay in business very long, but this is the way our health system operates.”
The GCHS is audited each year by an accounting firm that reports its results to the State of Alabama for approval. The accountants also prepare a cost report which is used by the Federal and state governments to determine reimbursement rates and “disproportionate share payments” to help cover deficits.
For the current fiscal year, for the 10 months from October 1, 2016 to July 31, 2017, the GCHS has a deficit of $894,227, about $90,000 per month after all direct and indirect revenues have been calculated. This deficit correlates with the $100,000 a month of “uncompensated care” the GCHS provides for very low income residents of Greene County, some of whom are “working poor people”, who have a minimum wage job but who do not have or qualify for insurance or a payer source.
The GCHS receives 1 cent of the 3-cent sales tax, which is received by Greene County on all retail sales in the county. This is generally $30 to $40,000 a month. Currently the GCHS has pledged these funds for ten years on a bond issue that generated $2.5 million to pay accumulated debts for the past five years of operations, including a $1.2 take-back by Medicaid for “over payments in past years”.

GCHS needs support from electronic bingo

The GCHS is currently receiving minimal support from “electronic bingo” in Greene County. When Amendment 743 was passed, support for the hospital was named as one of the major reasons for use of the charitable bingo contributions. For the past five years, the hospital and nursing home have only received minimal contributions from bingo and we were not included in the formula for use of the $200 fee per machine, which goes to support the Board of Education, County Commission, Sheriff’s office and four municipalities.
We have been discussing our financial situation and problems with Sheriff Joe Benison for five years. In June 2016, the Sheriff imposed a 4% tax on the companies that provide bingo machines in Greene County. This tax was supposed to generate $20,000 a month for the GCHS. Unfortunately, the Sheriff did not enforce his own regulations and none of these funds were paid to the hospital. For the 15 months since June 2016, the GCHS has not received the $300,000, this tax was supposed to generate.
On Friday, August 25, 2017, the GCHS Board of Directors met with Sheriff Benison to discuss our critical financial situation. We asked the Sheriff to collect the outstanding 4% tax that he imposed on machine operators and provide an immediate infusion of funds to the hospital. Secondly, we asked that he immediately, as of September 1, 2017, increase the base fee, on all machines, at all bingo parlors by $25.00 from $200 to $225, and provide that increase on a monthly basis to the health care system.
Based on a minimum of 300 machines in each of the 5 bingo establishments, this would generate $37,500 in new revenues, on a stable monthly basis, to help the hospital toward financial solvency and covering the cost of uncompensated care. We feel Greene County health services must be included in the basic fee formula per machine or in whatever basic revenue formula is developed for bingo. We really feel the gaming industry in Greene County can afford and must support our hospital and related health care facilities.
In our letter to Sheriff Benison, we gave him until this Friday, September 8, 2017, to give a positive response to our requests. This is a critical problem and we need the help of the Sheriff and the gaming industry in Greene County to help to do their part to solve this problem.
To summarize, we must all work together to save our Greene County Health System. The people of Greene County, Black and White, must use our facilities more, fill up our nursing home, use our laboratory testing, our rehabilitative services, our three doctors and two nurse practitioners at the clinic, our home health services, our mammogram machine, CT scanner and every service we have available.
Our community leaders including the Sheriff, County Commissioners, School Board, Mayors and City Councils, preachers and lay church leaders, civic organizations, and everyone in a leadership position in the community must help us save the hospital and health services so that they will be there when you need them.

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.

Mayor Steele reports on Water Tower progress

tower.jpg

At Tuesday’s regular Eutaw City Council meeting, Mayor Steele reported on the progress of building the new water tank and tower behind City Hall. “The structure of the tower is going up and the bowl for the tank should be set this week,” said Steele.
The photograph with this story show the size and impact of the new water tower which will be linked to the new water lines, fire hydrants and water meters being placed as part of the $3.1 USDA Rural Development loan and grant package to update the city water system.
In other actions:
• The City Council agreed to a certificate honoring Sheriff Joe Benison for his help to the city with funds from electronic bingo.
• Approved a license for alcohol sales to Get Well Drug and Dollar Store.
• Approved a promotion to Sergeant for Police Officer Rodriquez Jones; Councilwoman Latasha Johnson voted against this motion because of concerns she has about the officer’s treatment of citizens of Eutaw.
•Discussed and tabled a proposal from Mayor Steele to seek a grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund for constructing a pavilion, bathrooms and a concession stand in the City Park on Lock 7 Road. The project is estimated to cost up to $100,000 with a 50-50 match from the city that is required.
• Approved use of the National Guard Armory for ‘New Hope – New Visions’ organization.
• Approved providing chairs and tables from the Armory for a program of the Senior Olympics in Eutaw.