Viewpoint – Deb Hadachek
Some 25 years ago when I started to cover Republic County Hospital board meetings for the Telescope, I was welcomed with open arms. Not all governmental agencies feel that way about the media when they show up to report on their meetings.
“We want the people in Republic County to know what’s happening here,” then-chairman Ben Holloway told me. “We want them to know the financial challenges we face, because we will need their help.”
People in rural counties feel an emotional bond with their hospitals. It is always a worry in reporting the financial losses of the hospital accurately that we not start a panic about the future of health care services here. Balance sheets for Critical Access Hospitals do not work the same as most businesses. Some 95 percent of the time, the hospital is reimbursed less for a service than it costs to provide that service. Timely payments by payors and some infusion of tax dollars help assure the cash flow is available to pay bills.
In a couple of weeks, Republic County citizens will receive mail ballots on a question to continue a one cent sales tax for hospital operations.
Ballots will go out April 20, and are due back in the Republic County Clerk’s office May 10.
It is important to understand the hospital is not asking for a new tax. It will only continue the exact same one-cent tax that has been collected for some 15 years. It was originally approved to pay off bonds on the hospital renovation project. If this vote is approved, once enough is collected to retire those bonds, the money will instead be used towards hospital operations. One cent generates about $500,000 a year in Republic County. While it won’t do away entirely with the need for a property tax mill levy for hospital operations, the hospital board feels the sales tax helps the burden be shared more fairly between property owners and those who do not own property.
Local tax support to the hospital represents only about five percent of its revenue. The remainder of the $12 million budget each year is funded by Medicare, Medicaid and insurance reimbursements–money that can only come back to Republic County in the form of payments for health care services.
The hospital has only been successful because of the solid support of citizens over the past 55 years. A “yes” vote for the sales tax means citizens support doing what is necessary to continue that tradition into the future.