Lawrence Co. works to save ailing hospital

Published 5:00 am Monday, April 9, 2001

MONTICELLO — The county board of supervisors has agreed toproceed with plans to sell or lease Lawrence County Hospital.

A lengthy executive session followed the last week’s meetingwith the hospital’s board of trustees and Hospital AdministratorDeborah Roberts, and several steps were taken to prepare thehospital for the leasing arrangement.

In those steps, the hospital board terminated Roberts, and thecounty board asked retired Hospital Administrator Bill Nelson toreturn to the hospital until the leasing program could be arranged.Nelson retired for medical reasons in 1996 after 21 years ofservice.

The hospital is in dire straits, Board President CalvinFortenberry said without placing blame, and the county board isdoing everything it can to keep it open until a leasing arrangementcan be made.

“A year ago we started asking questions, but when (Roberts) cameto us asking for money, we really started looking into it,”Fortenberry said.

The hospital has approximately $8,500 in cash and $360,000 ingood account receivables, according to figures supplied to theboard during Monday’s meeting. As much as 25 to 30 percent of the$360,000 will be lost to contractual adjustments with insurancecompanies, leaving the hospital with approximately $270,000 inpositive revenue.

According to the same figures, the hospital owes approximately$396,000 in payables.

The county gave the hospital $100,000 in December to be used asneeded and advanced another $175,000 Tuesday.

At the request of the hospital board, Nelson said he went to thehospital on Wednesday, March 28, as an advisor. He called bothboards on Friday, March 30, and informed them he couldn’t save thefacility.

An executive session was called after the regular meeting onApril 2 to discuss the hospital, and Nelson was asked toparticipate. He was asked to continue helping the hospital and wasensured he would have the full support of the supervisors in suchan effort, Nelson said.

“The supervisors asked me to come up and spend what time I coulduntil they get the hospital leased,” Nelson said. “I’m trying tohold it together and get together a positive cash flow.

“The supervisors are doing everything they can,” he added. “Thepeople should be proud of the efforts they’re making to keep thisthing open. They’re doing everything they legally can.”

Nelson said a lot has changed in the five years since he hasbeen retired, including the changes in Medicare reimbursement,which has hamstrung many rural hospitals. While trying to keep thehospital open, he is also having “to get up to speed” on the latestchanges.

“Everyone here is giving it a 100 percent effort and making itas easy for me as possible,” Nelson said. “We have a good group ofpeople working here. I hate that they’re being put throughthis.”

Nelson said he declined to accept a salary for his role inadministering the hospital.

“I’m donating my time,” he said. “The hospital paid me a goodsalary for 21 years, and I love this community. I’m just trying topay back the good times from all those years. That’s at my request,they didn’t ask that of me. I would rather my salary go towardsaving this hospital. We need this hospital.”

He is not alone in donating his time. He has contacted severalprofessionals in the business, such as public accountants, heworked with while administrator, and many of them are also donatingtheir time. Some of these professionals even live outside thecounty, but recognize the county’s need for a hospital, hesaid.

While Nelson struggles to keep the hospital open, countysupervisors struggle to proceed through the sell or leasingprocess.

“State law requires certain things before a hospital can be soldor leased,” Fortenberry said. “The first thing is the assessmentstudy.”

Monday, the board approved a bid on the study. Fortenberry saidthe study would cost the county $15,000 plus expenses.

“The study will tell us how bad it is,” he said. “I can tell youthat financially it’s in bad shape, but I don’t know the actualdollar figure. I’m not sure anyone does.”

The board will do everything it legally can to keep the hospitalopen until it can be sold or leased, Fortenberry said.