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Now is the time to speak out on hospital expansion
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Effingham is now the 22nd fastest growing county in the nation, the 6th fastest growing in the state. With Effingham citizens now numbering in excess of 50,000, our hospital is a critical part of our community. A county of this size and with this rate of growth not only deserves but requires a hospital with the expanded and enhanced services that our proposed hospital expansion would provide.
What will the hospital expansion bring to the community?
A) Expanded services: 1 - surgery services/new and more surgery suites mean the ability to perform a number of orthopedic and other surgeries here at home; 2 - emergency services/new space with new and better equipment, the ability to fast track patients for immediate acute care; 3 - imaging services/new equipment, better services with more trained staff, the offering of chemo and radiology care/treatment for cancer patients right here at home; 4 - Alzheimer patient services/renovation of a wing of the nursing home to serve Alzheimer patients in a safe and secure environment; 5-enhanced therapy services/including cardiac, pulmonary, physical, occupational and speech therapy, with plans to incorporate a wellness center to assist patients in maintaining and improving their health.
This expansion will allow Effingham citizens to access these expanded and improved services right here in the community. This would save valuable time in accessing needed emergency services when needed and would eliminate the need to spend the better part of day seeking these services in Savannah, saving time and the cost of travel. These services will allow our hospital to offer the day surgery and procedures that are the trend of the time. No, there are never a lot of patients in the hospital. It’s now in-out-go home for many services; Effingham Hospital needs to be able to offer those services to the citizens.
B) Economic impact: 1- increased employment in the county during construction, the plans are to hire local construction firms as the sub-contractors for the project. More local employment means more dollars pumped into the local economy, estimated at $20.5 million. 2 - increased employment in staffing the expanded services and associated services that will develop, more dollars pumped into the local economy: $9.6 million.
C) This expansion should be looked at as an economic development issue. First an adequate and modern hospital is a key tool to economic development, the hospital is one of the factors looked at in a community when industries are looking for sites. Effingham would be soliciting an industry that would provide the impact that this expansion brings to the county. This is an economic development opportunity that is within our grasp. This expansion would create 75 new jobs with the initial opening and 282 by 2014, many professional and highly technical jobs, with an average annual salary of $39.276. This translates into $2.6 million more in our economy in Effingham annually. 
D) What does the hospital ask for from our commissioners? 1 - 2 mills of tax. This is what they now get; 2 - a few acres of land, this does not seem to be an issue; 3 - Why the two mills? This is a required component to get the HUD loan for $30 million for the expansion, but it does not make the county responsible for payment of the loan, only to continue funding the indigent care and uncompensated care; 4 - What is the interest on this loan (this has been a sticking point). At the present rate it would be 7 percent. With the funding now available, HUD would rebate to the hospital 35 percent of the interest. But the application must be in line for approval by Dec. 31. 
The question for every citizen may well be “how much taxes does this cost me?” For a property with a value assessment of $100,000 ($250,000 fair market value) at a millage rate of 2 mills, your tax contribution to the hospital expansion annually at $200. Effingham citizens now pay $168 annually for trash pickup. Yes, we need trash pickup, but we also need our proposed hospital expansion. This gives us a little perspective on what our tax dollars fund.
So what are the questions for you?
Do you want these expanded and enhanced health services? Do you want your hospital to survive and be a leader in medical services in our area? Do you appreciate having all this available within a short distance from your home? Do you think that the county should continue funding the hospital at the present level? Are you supportive of having your tax dollars continue to be spent on this vital service?
And, what can you do?
It’s time now, immediately, for you to step up and say so. County commissioners are elected by the people and when the people come together and speak they will listen. This cannot be accomplished by two or three. It requires a number of citizens to express their wishes.
How can you be a part of “Now is the time for our hospital?” 1) encourage your relatives, friends and neighbors to join you in speaking out; 2) call your commissioners and tell them what you want them to do; 3) attend the commissioners meeting on Tuesday at 7 p.m. when this issue will come before the board for a vote.
The time for action is now. In the process for the HUD backed loan, the deadline (June 30) is near for completing the documentation for the loan. Without this approval now, the plans for expansion are in jeopardy.
Now is the time for the citizens to assure this action by stepping up and speaking out in support of the hospital. Tell your county commissioners that you want this 2 mills of tax for our hospital. It’s time for action today to assure our health care services for the future.
I have in hand about eight thick documents, studies if you will, (with information specifically requested by the commissioners) about the details as outlined by professional financiers and economists. I thought that you may be like me, you want in simple, straightforward terms what the bottom line is and “what does this project do for me?” and “what will it cost me?” This plan has been batted back and forth between the hospital authority and the county commissioners since October 2009. I won’t go into why it’s still out there being debated, each side has their story. But I have to tell you this — we need this hospital expansion. The studies show that it is a very viable project and we need our forces to come together and do what is right for the county and the citizens.  
It is past time for all of the hospital authority and all of the commissioners to come together on this vital county service. Please join me in bringing this message to our county commissioners and authority members. To paraphrase a wise saying “the only thing necessary for good things not to happen is for good people to do nothing.”