Trinity emergency room, tax increase put on hold

Joseph Brown/ The ItemThe Trinity Memorial Hospital District has been seeking a new operator for Trinity Memorial Hospital after East Texas Medical Center vacated the property in 2017. A plan for an emergency center was delayed Monday as officials seek a partnership with CHI St. Luke’s. 

Citizens wanting emergency healthcare in Trinity will have to wait a little longer. 

The Trinity Memorial Hospital District delayed an operations agreement with CHI St. Lukes and a subsequent tax increase during its monthly meeting on Monday, after receiving pushback from citizens in the rural community. Initial plans called for the district’s tax rate to nearly triple — increasing from 12.93 cents per $100 valuation to as much as 36 cents.

“The commitment of this board is to inform and listen to the community, and many have asked us to re-open the emergency room,” district vice president Carlyn Bluis said. “We have great gratitude for CHI St. Luke’s. They are trying to make this a successful venture as we are looking for grant funding to cover startup costs while they are going through a merger.

“This is just not the right time, and if we wait until next year this can be voted on by the public.”

The board voted to keep the tax rate at its current value of 12.93 cents.

“We are still committed to opening an emergency room, but the delay will help us refine the numbers,” district president Randy Karnes added. “CHI St. Luke’s is still committed, and it is our intent to keep working with them. That is what we will continue to do, but it is just not the time to do it.“

Trinity Memorial Hospital officially closed in 2017 after the former operator East Texas Medical Center choose not to renew its lease. ETMC officials stated that poor utilization and declining reimbursement rates were among the reasons for the health care system’s decision to depart.

The hospital district initially sought a partnership with Huntsville Memorial Hospital in 2016 to operate the rural hospital, signing a letter of intent in late 2017. However, two weeks before HMH was to assume operations in Trinity the Trinity Hospital District was notified that they would not be signing the lease.

CHI St. Lukes came into the picture in 2017, with the non-profit, faith-based hospital system taking over the clinic the day after ETMC vacated the property. Currently, the hospital district supports a clinic — Healthpoint Trinity in conjunction with CHI St. Luke’s — which provides two physicians and two nurse practitioners.

And now they are wanted to expand their services in Trinity. However, projections say that a new emergency department will cost taxpayers $1.6 million — based on 416 patients per month the first year and anticipated increased patients.

“Trinity County is dying,” local resident Bob Check said in response to the tax increase discussion. “The economic boom has passed us by… we have no industry and just to buy the basic needs many have to travel 25-30 miles. The last thing we need is an additional tax.”

“With low reimbursements, I do not believe that this venture can ever be profitable,” fellow resident Elizabeth Davis added. “This will not be a one-time tax increase. New businesses aren’t going to come here if they can’t afford the taxes. At this point it is difficult to sustain any type of medical venture.”

If hospital district officials hope to increase taxes above the rollback rate they will now have to go to the voters, with Senate Bill 2 taking full affect the next budget cycle.

Public hearings for the adopted tax rate of 12.93 cents per $100 valuation will be held September 9 and 12 at the hospital.