Texas County’s medical debt for its jail continues to climb at the county-owned hospital and the institution’s CEO told trustees he’d like to resolve the issue amid a shaky financial environment for rural hospitals.
“I would like to resolve this issue,” Wes Murray, TCMH chief executive officer said as he addressed the hospital board members at their monthly meeting last week.
The message from the hospital to the Texas County Commission: Pay your bills and keep your healthcare dollars at home to support the institution owned by county residents.
“The hospital had to write off nearly $700,000 in bad debt in September, almost $675,000 this month and part of that belongs to the county,” Murray explained. The hospital is required to anyone who walks through its emergency department doors.
Murray mentioned that he was told on several different occasions that the county would only pay bills to agencies that they had a contractual agreement with. He’s worked to get an agreement without success.
The hospital received a letter from Laura Crowley, Texas County clerk, stating in part, “In as much as we have no contract with your organization, we are prohibited from making any payment.
If you want to discuss how to obtain a proper agreement you may contact this office and we will advise you of the county’s process for contracting.”
“The county clerk’s letter infers that there is a standard process for obtaining a contract and all that it takes is contacting them to learn it. However, I have made multiple attempts over the past several years to get a contractual agreement, but it has gotten us nowhere,” Murray said as the board members listened to his frustration.
In October, Murray handed a copy of the letter that was sent to the county clerk to the TCMH board members. The letter was a timeline of past meetings and offers made in an effort to resolve the issue.
Murray explained that years before him becoming the CEO at TCMH, payment terms were agreed upon and the county paid consistently according to those terms. Then at some point, the bills stopped being approved and paid by the county. Presiding Commissioner Scott Long and Associate Commissioners John Casey and Doyle Heiney comprise the commission.
“The hospital was never given the courtesy of being informed that there was a decision to change the way the county would handle the bills,” Murray said.
Murray mentioned that although the “dumping of inmates in the emergency department” and misuse of TCMH services has not occurred with the current Texas County sheriff and staff, the Texas County Sheriff’s Department still needs the hospital’s services from time to time.
“We will continue to send bills to the county even though the bills are no longer being paid,” Murray said. “However, until we reach an agreement with the county, they need to take their inmates elsewhere for their routine care.”
Murray said the Texas County commissioners accept the responsibility to procure healthcare services to inmates of the Texas County Jail by having a contractual agreement in place with an out-of-state company that allows a licensed nurse to perform 18 hours per week of routine medical services for their inmates. The agreement does not cover after hours or emergency services.
Murray said he offered a better agreement to the county that would provide coverage at the jail and include emergency department services at the hospital. The dollars spent would stay right here in Texas County.
“The last time I made this offer to the county was on March 19 earlier this year,” Murray said. “I have yet to receive any correspondence to the offer.”
“We need to pursue getting a contract with the county, but we need to pursue recouping our dollars that are owed,” Jim Perry, OD, TCMH board of trustees president, said. “Texas County residents are the ones that are going to pay to send our dollars out-of-state instead of keeping the dollars here in our own community.”
“We should keep Texas County tax dollars in Texas County,” Perry said.
“I think we need to pursue this,” Omanez Fockler, TCMH board of trustees vice chair said. “I am tired of seeing the hospital treated suspect (by) the county officials.”
Murray mentioned to the board members that the hospital sent a Sunshine Law request to the county that was received Oct. 17, to ask for copies of the contracts that they currently have in place. The correspondence that TCMH did receive was not what had been requested, and was not timely, as required by state law.
A comment from the commission was unavailable at presstime Tuesday.