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Commerce hospital needs money
Officials seek assistance from Jackson, Banks counties in making loan payments
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JEFFERSON — The Banks Jackson Commerce Medical Center has seen a marked increase in the number of patients who can’t afford to pay medical bills, and with a declining economy and some debts to its name, the hospital is looking for some financial help from Jackson County.

Rick Massey, a member of the Banks Jackson Commerce Hospital and Nursing Home Authority, went before the Jackson County Commission on Monday to explain the hospital’s goal of consolidating and restructuring its debts and to ask for the county’s help in doing so.

"Basically ... we have a significant need at the current time for Jackson County and Banks County to guarantee a $5.2 million long-term debt as well as a $1 million line of credit," Massey said.

"And in conjunction with that, we would like to ask both counties to fund those loan payments."

But the commission expressed some hesitation in loaning that much money to the hospital, according to Chairman Hunter Bicknell.

"We’re all concerned about having a health care facility in the county ... but this is a lot of money. It’s a huge commitment. We’ll just have to take it under consideration and see what we can do," Bicknell said.

The hospital authority previously spoke with financial lenders about restructuring its debt and was told to get Jackson and Banks counties to guarantee the loan and agree to fund the payments before it could receive approval for this debt consolidation, according to supplemental agenda documents.

"The immediate concern is the state of the economy and the banking system. We need to restructure that debt, and we don’t have the ability to restructure that debt the way we want to because of our bond failure with the $1.5 million debt we have on the bond."

Massey also said the indigent care costs, which are the costs associated with patients who don’t have the financial means to pay health care costs, have increased
significantly and will continue to increase in 2009.

"The indigent care that we have in Jackson County is about $701,000, and that’s about 56 percent of our indigent care. And unfortunately, that number is going to continue to grow," Massey said.

Bicknell said the commission "recognizes the plight (the hospital) is under" but that the county would need to know that the hospital will be able to "operate in the black."

"We’re going to need considerable assurances that the facility will be able to operate in the black and considering all contingencies — poor economy, more and more indigent care, burdens on the facility — in order for us to step up to what amounts to $6.2 million."

The hospital’s request came during the work session part of Monday’s meeting, and the commission took no action. The request will be on the agenda at the commission’s next meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. May 18 at the Jackson County Courthouse.

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