Thermopolis Independent Record - Your source for news in Hot Springs County

Voters to speak on hospital propositions

 


Aside from the races for various political positions, the hot topics for the general election Tuesday, Nov. 8 are the two propositions concerning Hot Springs County Memorial Hospital. One is for the formation of a special hospital district; the other is for the creation of a one percent Specific Purpose Sales and Use Excise Tax, which would be used to collect $16.4 million for the construction, expansion, remodeling, renovation, furnishing and equipping of the hospital.

Vote yes for our hospital

The Yes for Our Hospital Political Action Committee (PAC) supports the hospital as it offers a wide variety of services, and supports other entities in the medical community, such as pharmacies, dentists, family practice doctors and surgeons. Additionally, the hospital draws people to the town, representative Karen Sinclair said, which positively affects other businesses.

Sinclair pointed out the hospital itself is old and in constant need of repair, and also struggles to accommodate new technology. Further, restrooms are not handicap-accessible and there is a definite lack of shower facilities.

The layout of the building also impedes efficient staffing, and these factors make it difficult to recruit and retain healthcare professionals and physicians.

With regard to the two ballot propositions, Sinclair said the formation of a district ensures the hospital continues to be locally run, and allows the community to take advantage of new technologies and advances in healthcare. The three mill tax levy the district can raise annually, she said, would provide steady funding and access to other funding opportunities.

The second proposition establishes the one percent tax, which would provide for remodeling and expansion of the hospital. Sinclair pointed out this tax would go away once the required amount for the project is raised.

Sinclair said both propositions are essential to the viability of the hospital, and if both don’t pass then it will have a negative impact on not only the healthcare in Thermopolis but also the job market, overall population and property values. She pointed out other options were considered, such as partnerships with larger corporations, but the interests of such entities did not align with the hospital and such partnerships would result in the hospital becoming simply an emergency care facility.

She has asked people not only vote in favor of both propositions, but also choose carefully on the district board, as doing so would help ensure the hospital remains here and there is a robust community for this generation and those to come.

Common sense healthcare

The Citizens for Common Sense Healthcare PAC is opposed to the formation of the hospital district and the sales tax.

Representative Mike Baker has stated the PAC wants appropriate medical care for our community, and expressed concern that fear tactics are being used to get people to vote “yes” on the propositions. Baker’s also concerned about taxes being raised at a time of economic downturn.

With regard to the hospital possibly closing, Baker said capital purchases continue, salaries have increased and hiring still continues to happen, and by current state statute only the County Commissioners can close the hospital.

Baker has also said there is not enough money or bonding capabilities to completely build any proposed additions to the hospital, as planned by the consultants, and there would not be a significant increase in operative revenue for the hospital with the creation of a district.

Jim Collins said the community cannot shoulder the entire management cost alone. After the initiative for a district failed in 2013, Collins was asked to serve on a hospital board created sub-committee to explore how the hospital should go into the future.

As Hot Springs County Memorial Hospital is a county hospital, Collins said, the county commissioners are responsible for the managerial and financial duties of the hospital. If a district passes, such responsibilities will be placed on the new board and, ultimately the citizens, of Hot Springs County. He cautioned taxpayers would have their property encumbered upon from now on if the propositions pass.

Harry Hughes, chair of the PAC, stated the group does support affordable, quality healthcare but does not support imposing taxes prior to an analysis of all potential healthcare delivery models. Based on current sales in Hot Springs County, Hughes said, it would take about 14 years to collect the necessary funding through the special tax, which would be on every necessity and service purchased.

Collins urged voters not to vote yes for the hospital measures until all alternatives have been explored.

Baker said there is no imminent threat to the hospital, and he does not foresee the commissioners making a move to close the facility. Raising taxes would not significantly increase cash flow for the operation of the hospital, he said, and passing a one-cent sales tax would not create enough to finance or maintain any new facility.

 

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