Here’s to Your Health

The decline of Fairfield Memorial Hospital has been agonizing to witness, and over the last three years that decline has, under the leadership of its Board of Directors, accelerated at an almost sickening pace. No one single factor is solely to blame for the hospital’s state of affairs, but among them certainly are politics. Ruthless ideology prevented our governor from accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid. Whether or not she was right to decline those funds in spite of pleas from health care advocates across the state is beside the point. The fact of the matter is small hospitals like Fairfield Memorial sure could use a chunk of that change round about now.

Collecting on past due bills has also been an issue for the hospital, and not until only recently did its administration get serious about doing so; perhaps too late to stem the pyroclastic flow of red ink. Insurance companies are less enthusiastic about paying for overnight stays in hospitals than they used to be, and local physicians are now competing with Fairfield Memorial, offering many of the same testing services in their offices at better rates. And people are just healthier now than they used to be. Good for people. Bad for the hospital.

But for a county with a significant population of the aged and aging, and for a county with a nuclear power plant in its back yard, and for a county serious about attracting new industry, and for a number of other very good reasons, every effort must be exerted to save Fairfield Memorial from either downgrading to nothing more than a field aid station or boarding up its windows and shutting down entirely. It is on that very precipice that the County now stands.

No one can deny that County Council has, thus far, made no small effort, shelling out six-figure loans every year for the last three years on top of their annual contribution of nearly $1 million. After all, no Council wants to be forever known as the Council that pulled the plug on the county hospital. But is a constant infusion of emergency money the only answer? Is it even the right answer?

One thing that can be said about a large sum of money is that it is certainly never the wrong answer. But money without a plan is not the best answer, and only in recent months – arguably late in the ballgame – has the hospital’s administration gotten serious about putting together a marketing strategy to partner Fairfield Memorial with a larger hospital out of Richland County. That plan is at least a month, if not three, from fruition. Not the deal itself, mind you, but the plan to make the deal. And if this larger hospital doesn’t sign on the dotted line, then what? Until only a few weeks ago, administration was hazy on what Plan B would entail, and not until significant pressure was brought to bear by County Council did two alternatives to the partnership emerge in the full light of day.

Granted, those alternatives – selling the hospital outright to a private entity or downgrading to an urgent care center – are not attractive, but at least they are tangible options to operating a money pit out on the Bypass.

Maintaining a fully operational hospital in Fairfield County is imperative. But how things got so far is a question of leadership. The writing has been on the wall since the day the governor said no to federal Medicaid expansion – something she has been saying since at least as far back as the summer of 2012. Plan A should have been on the table the following morning. Plan B the morning after that.

Administration is accountable to the Board of Directors, and the Board of Directors is appointed by County Council. Somewhere the buck has got to stop and visionary leadership has to come to the fore.

Comments

  1. Norm_Nav says

    It needs to be noted that this problem predated the PPACA (Obamacare). It should also be noted that a County Councilman had an ongoing conflict of interest by being a public relations director for the Hospital. One thing for certain, we have an ongoing problem that has been begging for a solution for years.

  2. Mark Polk says

    A Board of Directors with no vision for the future and a County Council full of self-interest have greatly contributed to this problem..A county without a viable hospital will further deteriorate internally.

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