The $500,000 Sandwich

Before soliciting contributions, it is the modicum of courtesy to at least offer perspective donors a bite to eat, perhaps a few cocktails and maybe some light entertainment before passing the collection plate. Indeed, the amount of the contribution may be directly proportional to the number of cocktails, and most of your more lucrative charities have this formula calculated to the precise gin-and-tonic.

Sans the cocktails, and any intentional entertainment, the Board and administrators of Fairfield Memorial Hospital followed a similar model Monday night in their presentation to County Council on the state of their economic affairs. ‘There is light at the end of the tunnel,’ the hospital’s CEO said after refreshments were served. ‘We just need to get to that light.’

And that ‘light,’ apparently, is $650,000 away.

To be absolutely fair, this time last year that light was $1.2 million away, which the County pitched in to keep our county’s health care facility solvent. Literally, to keep the lights on, the water running and the insurance and retirement payments current. Over the last 12 months, the hospital has done those things and more. Operating expenses are, basically, static; but so are revenues. Yet, there are measures in place and plans afoot to move the needle on the income side of the ledger. To get that needle moving, however, is going to take some start-up capital.

The biggest chunk – $500,000 – is actually just a loaner; a line of credit while the hospital transitions to a new medical records and billing computer system. The County should have that back in a matter of months. The $75,000 for a full-time physician at Blue Granite Medical Center is an investment into future referrals to the hospital and relief from patients using the emergency room as their source of primary care. Plus, without a full-time physician, Blue Granite cannot qualify for the grant funds it needs to survive. The other $75,000, for renovations to the emergency room, may not actually be life or death money. That’s something to which the Council will have to give serious consideration.

Meanwhile, one plan the hospital has to grow revenues in coming years involves reopening the operating room. Yes, surgery is big money; but not underneath a leaky roof. Not even in M*A*S*H units. The cost of a new roof? An estimated additional $250,000.

Thus, even if we toss out the $500,000 front money in anticipation that it will be returned shortly, in order for Fairfield Memorial to reach that light at the end of the tunnel it could cost as much as $400,000. Maybe more.

While the County should naturally flinch, at least a little – the way a child might flinch at the sight of a doctor standing up from his instrument table holding an 8-inch needle – this is not exactly like throwing good money after bad. It is more like an investment; an investment in the citizens of Fairfield County who deserve adequate health care, as well as in an economic cornerstone, essential to any hopes of an industrial future.

Considering that this time last year the fear was that the County would be writing another check equal to or greater than $1.2 million just to keep the doors open, any figure less than half of that should be considered progress. Hold your nose and take your medicine. There are worse things on which to spend the money.

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