Transparency is key with hospital transaction

Item File PhotoThe Walker County Hospital District is expected to take over operations at Huntsville Memorial Hospital with a new management company.

The public has a right to know.

Funded by local property tax dollars, the Walker County Hospital District’s sole purpose is to provide care for indigent patients in Walker County. After wasting millions of those dollars, the district is close to finalizing a deal that will increase property taxes and put locals on the hook for millions more — a deal of which the tax payers know very little, if anything, about.

Causes behind the financial turmoil at Huntsville’s acute care facility became public last week, and the mess has forced the hospital district to prepare takeover operations of Huntsville Memorial Hospital within the next two months.

The big hurdle - additional funding. The hospital district, who operates on a budget of nearly $8 million and has $13 million in reserves, will need an estimated $15-20 million to fund at least four months of operations until bills start to come in. Officials are also expected to raise the district’s tax rate by nearly 8% in a quest for additional funding.

How did they get into this situation?

After months of investigation, The Item uncovered the private hospital corporation lost millions of dollars due to inflated salaries, possible insurance fraud and failing attempts to establish a network of clinics. This was confirmed by officials with the corporation and the district board.

Taxpayers have been forced — and will continue — to bailout the corporation, who to this day has refused to answer questions in a public setting. Earlier this year, taxpayers footed nearly $2.2 million in cash payments to keep the hospital doors open, which doesn’t even account for the millions in missed rent payments.

Was that the best decision for Huntsville and Walker County taxpayers?

Moving forward, the hospital district continues to lack full transparency on how they will come up with the additional $15-20 million needed.

Huntsville needs a hospital and one that can be sustained without digging into the taxpayers pockets. Huntsville Memorial Hospital is full of terrific healthcare professionals, and a functioning hospital is vital for any city to truly prosper.

However, taxpayers have a right to know exactly how their money is being spent, and not after the fact. Declining to provide the plan to save our hospital not only casts a shadow on the district’s operation as a landlord, but also speaks volumes on how they will operate in the future.

The hospital and healthcare options are extremely important to this community, and the actions of the hospital district will have a great impact on the future of our local medical facilities and care. Actions with so much at stake should not be made hastily or behind closed doors.

Transparency is something the hospital district should implement immediately to start gaining back the trust of the people and restore faith in our local hospital.