'Community doesn't want prisoners at HMH'

COVID-19 cases in prisons have spiked within several facilities across Walker County. 

At the same time, officials with the Walker County Hospital District are wanting to kick offenders out of Huntsville Memorial Hospital — an acute care facility with 22 beds earmarked for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

“The community views HMH as a prison hospital and they don’t want the offenders there,” hospital district board member Judy Emmett said during Wednesday’s meeting.

According to HMH’s Chief Financial Officer Greg Magers, the hospital generates nearly $10 million per year in cash receipts from TDCJ, representing approximately 15 percent of total collections.

“I’m certainly respectful of the conversation, but from an economic sense they (TDCJ) are important to the hospital,” Magers said.

Hospital CEO Steve Smith said that the hospital’s prison wing has been averaging nearly 15 beds per day since the COVID-19 pandemic started. Smith says that the hospital has only averaged three COVID-19 offenders per day, and over 30 offenders were transferred to the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

“The big question is … would you replace the $10 million in revenue with free world revenue,” hospital district administrator Ralph Beatty said.

“I have an understanding of what they (TDCJ) are going through over there, but I also understand what the hospital is going through,” district member Joe Sapp said. “The question we have to ask ourselves is how significant is that money and would it be a significant hit if we were not getting it?”

The hospital’s contract with TDCJ will be up for renewal in September.

HOSPITAL SEES SIGNIFICANT CENSUS DROP

In his monthly update to the hospital district, Smith told the managers that admissions dropped 25 percent over the month of April from the prior year. As expected, surgeries also saw significant drops at an 82% decline.

Smith said that the hospital restarted elective surgeries on May 12, after reaching state requirements. Those requirements include the flattening of the positive rate trend, maintaining 15% capacity for COVID-19 patients and regulations on the usage of personal protective equipment.

The CEO said that all patients who undergo a surgery are being tested in-house prior to their operation. The longest turnaround for a COVID-19 test is four hours, with one machine allowing the hospital to gain results from a test in 45 minutes.

Huntsville Memorial Hospital generated nearly $22 million in revenue over the month of April — a 42 percent drop in gross charges. Magers said that the hospital had an operating loss of $1.6 million, but were able to supplement the losses with $1.2 million in stimulus funds and $7.2 million in accelerated Medicaid payments.

“Moving forward we will be placing a heavy focus on grant money,” Magers said. “We have already received two grants in the month of May and we are putting together proposals for reimbursements from FEMA. We have to aggressively pursue any non-patient care money that we can find.”

SAPP APPOINTED TO CORPORATION BOARD

The newest member of the Walker County Hospital District board was given the nod to join the Huntsville Community Hospital board. Sapp will serve on the corporation board, which will consist of employees and community members.

Hospital District chairman Anne Karr Woodard serves as the district’s representative on a three-person executive board.

The next scheduled meeting of the Walker County Hospital District is scheduled for June 24.