Doctor challenges county's expenditures regarding HMH

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Guest column by Dr. Larry Hall

After World War II the U.S. Congress passed a bill known as “Hillburton,” which provided funds to be used to build rural hospitals. This ignited the idea of a hospital in Elizabethtown. The project was first taken by the Elizabethtown Rotary Club in 1949. This was brought to a vote, the idea was rejected.

A couple of years later, a wiser Rotary Club asked the Lions Club for assistance. The Rotary and Lions Clubs again put the question to a vote. This time the issue passed, and Hardin Memorial Hospital became a reality.

The civic clubs first approached the city of Elizabethtown to name the board members for Hardin Memorial Hospital Inc. This was rejected by the city of Elizabethtown, and Hardin County Fiscal Court was asked it they would assume this responsibility which they did.

When the hospital was nearing completion it was discovered that Hillburton would not pay for furnishings for the hospital. Locals were asked to donate. If a person, business or family donated enough to furnish a room or area, plaques were placed on the walls and doors. I remember, as a Boy Scout, going door to door collecting 25 cents, 50 cents or $1 donations for the hospital. The court backed a $300,000 bond issue to pay for equipment. This was the only monies the court gave to the hospital and the bond was soon paid off.

The hospital continued to function as a corporation with board members being appointed by the court and was a most successful enterprise. The corporation was self-governing and acquired its own bonds. It also funded depreciation, which made it possible to obtain bonds and continue with expansion. However, the interest on the bonds would have been less if the court had backed the bonds.

In the late 1970s and early ’80s, the idea of having corporative board members other than court-appointed was voiced. The medical staff changed their bylaws to allow medical and nursing staffs to be appointed to the corporative board.

In 1983, the corporation dissolved with all assets going to Hardin County, which I feel was a result of the attempts to change the staff bylaws. The court objected to the change. Politicians are always reluctant to lose control of anything.

Be that as it may, the hospital has continued to be successful and has grown. With the court’s leadership, it has expanded and stayed abreast of the technological world in exemplary fashion. At present I think sometimes there is a misunderstanding of the division between Hardin Memorial Hospital, fiscal court and county government. They are one and the same. The one is responsible for the other’s debt and vice versa.

This brings us to the present debts that these institutions are now incurring. A $40 million to $50 million hospital expansion, $20 million including debt service and land for new county offices.

The hospital has spent the following for medical practices recently: $3.5 million for Surgical Specialists in October 2010; $6.9 million for Elizabethtown Diagnostics in August 2011; $425,000 for Acute Care in July 2012; $6.8 million for Surgical Center in October 2012; and $1 million for Elizabethtown Orthopedics in November.

Add all this together and the county is responsible for debts approaching, if not exceeding, $100 million, all within the last few months.

I have to agree with Magistrate Doug Goodman that this debt is getting out of hand.

This debt was under the auspices, for the first time in history, of a fiscal court that has a Republican majority. I thought Republicans were supposed to be fiscal conservatives. As a Republican, I feel betrayed by this court.

Dr. Larry Hall of Elizabethtown is a former chief of staff at Hardin Memorial Hospital and formerly served as president of the Hardin-LaRue Medical Society and maintains membership in several medical professional organizations including the American Medical Association.