Effingham County commissioners are expected to take a recess in the middle of their meeting Tuesday to hear what the Effingham Hospital Authority has in mind.
The hospital authority will meet Tuesday at the Effingham Hospital at 3 p.m. to hear public comments on a plan to have the hospital run by a non-profit corporation. Under the plan, the hospital authority will lease the hospital to Effingham Hospital, Inc., whose officers currently are board members.
“We want to grow the hospital and make it a best practices hospital,” said Effingham Hospital’s Marie Livingstone. “The best way to move forward is as a 501 (c) 3.”
The public hearing is a first step, she said, and the hospital authority will begin a market analysis to see what the community needs and what it wants in a hospital.
“All of that will come along in the process,” Livingstone said.
To start, the hospital authority will serve as the board for the new corporation. The appointment process for the hospital authority members — one from each city and one from each county commission district — will continue, Livingstone said.
“They will have fiduciary responsibility and oversight. That will not go away,” she said.
What may go away, eventually, is the need for the hospital to take in property tax money from the county. As it stands, the hospital receives less than 2 mills for indigent care. Last year, the costs for indigent care topped $3 million, according to Livingstone.
“We want to grow our way out of depending on taxpayer support. We will grow out of this and be able to not require taxpayer support,” she said. “But if we don’t grow, we’ll never get there. Our goal is to be completely self-sufficient.”
When that will happen, Livingstone said, is difficult to predict.
As Effingham’s population hits the 50,000 mark and that number is expected to reach nearly 65,000 by 2015, the hospital wants to be able to offer more services for the county’s residents, Livingstone said. Statistics show that it takes a population of 50,000 to support a medical specialist, such as a cardiologist or neurologist.
She also added that doctors tend to come in pairs, since that way they don’t have to be on call all the time.
“We have the population here,” Livingstone said. “But to grow the hospital and become a community-based hospital that offers more services, we need to attract the doctors who can do those things. A 45-minute drive is a long drive, if you’ve got a sick child. If your child needs to have their tonsils out, you have to go to Savannah. To get doctors to where the population is, we have to offer the technology and facilities.”
She also added that’s a generation of Effingham residents who can’t say they were born at Effingham Hospital, since the hospital doesn’t deliver babies.
“So much surgery is outpatient. And we need an ICU,” Livingstone said. “Physicians go where the money and the technology is.”
The move to non-profit corporations running hospitals began back in the 1980s, Livingstone said, and it’s a move Grady Hospital in Atlanta went to recently.
“A lot of hospitals have switched to this model,” she said.
For one reason, the legislation enacting hospital authorities and detailing their roles was written 50 years ago, Livingstone noted.
“They didn’t take into account ways of doing business,” she said.
Once the corporate board, which will oversee the day-to-day functions of the hospital, is set up, it will need to create bylaws and its board membership. Livingstone said they likely will set up staggered terms so the entire board’s tenure isn’t up at once.
The new board also will allow members who move from a jurisdiction within the county to another to serve and also allow two individuals who are qualified to serve on the hospital authority yet live in the same jurisdiction to serve.
“It frees up the geographical restrictions we are currently under,” Livingstone said.
At all times, at least one hospital authority member will be on the new corporation’s board, she added.
According to Livingstone, hospital authority members believe establishing the non-profit corporation board to run the hospital is a necessary and prudent step.
“It’s a really exciting time,” she said. “We’re excited about what we’re going to be able to do. I just think it’s great. We would love to see this hospital be able to provide more of the health care needs of the people who live here.”