Community leaders agree a hospital is an important community asset. While they would like to help make sure the hospital remains but agree there is not much they can do.
Fayette Regional Health System filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Oct. 10. The day before, the medical group that previously supplied emergency room physicians sued the hospital for non-payment. The hospital has closed the ambulance service, home care service and the obstetrics department closed Friday.
The community needs the hospital and the community needs to know it will remain open, the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce board of directors stated in a written statement. Chapter 11 can be frightening if not understood, but in the business world, under approval of the bankruptcy court, it is used to restructure finances, balance its income and expenses, regain profitability and continue operations.
“The board of directors of the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce is pleased to hear that FRHS is being transparent in this time of restructuring,” the statement continued. “As one of the only stand-alone rural hospitals in our region that receives limited federal dollars, FRHS is using this tool to reorganize so that patient care disruption is minimal and they can continue providing services.
“This (reorganization) will probably be a slow process, however we are confident in the continuation of quality service FRHS provides to our community.”
“The hospital is very important to the community, and as the city, we’re going to do everything we can to help them stay up and running, because a good city has a good hospital,” said Mayor Harold Gordon. “It is vital to economic development to the city because people don’t have to travel as far, so it is good.”
He is uncertain what the city can do at this time, but will do what it can whether that is nothing more than providing support letters.
Gary Naylor of the Fayette County Board of Commissioners is not sure the county can provide any material help.
“I’ve been very concerned about it and have tried to seek advice from friends and others to know what directions we need to move in, just in case,” he said. “I haven’t really gotten any answers.”
Naylor’s wife is employed at the hospital.
For the county commissioners, the question is whether they become involved in some fashion or just stay out of the way and let the process move forward, he said. Even if the county wanted to do something, he is not sure what can be done.
There has been talk over the years of a larger hospital taking over the local facility in some fashion, but the concern now is that anyone once interested may back off and see what happens, he said.
To date, no one from the hospital has contacted the commissioners seeking help, he said.
Fayette County Council President Mike Wenta also has not had any contact with the hospital.
“I think a few years ago, something was mentioned about us becoming co-owners in the hospital and I think there was no desire on our part to want to take that responsibility on,” he said. “We’re struggling to keep the ship afloat of what we have now.”
A hospital is an assumed staple of a community, especially the emergency room and critical care, said Anna Dungan, Fayette County Foundation executive director and the former director of the hospital’s foundation.
“I was fortunate our twins were born there and I have such good memories of that,” she said. “There has always seemed to be a disconnect between those administering the hospital and those working with patients. I don’t know of a time where there was harmony.”
Those working with the patients and servicing the hospital are of the utmost importance, she said.
The hospital has entered several areas of service but for a county with 20,000 people, it may have tried too much, she suggested. It is wonderful to offer the services but FRHS should not be considered a regional hospital, she said.
“You can’t compete with Reid (Richmond),” Dungan said. “They’re a powerhouse. They have a legacy of strong leadership and deep pockets.”
She questioned the wisdom in building a medical center in Brookville about 10 years ago when those residents typically have gone to Oxford, Ohio, or Batesville for a hospital, she said. They will not just come because you build it.
“I’ve had a lot of people from other community foundations say ‘Is there anything you guys can do or is the state going to try to help?’” Dungan said. “They understand how vital hospitals are.”
“I don’t think the hospital board members should be making salary like they do,” Dungan said. “It’s a not-for-profit board.”
It is good that they are trying to reorganize but, during the process, there are many people counting on paychecks from the hospital, she said.
As the community tries to move forward with attracting new business, it seems to take one step forward and then something comes along and it takes two or three steps backward, Naylor said. The idea of the hospital in bankruptcy likely puts a damper on economic development efforts.