August vote likely for ACH funding

By BOB JOHNSON
Register City Editor

If all goes according to plans, a “funding mechanism” for either a remodeled Allen County Hospital or a new facility will be decided at the Aug. 3 primary election.
Allen County commissioners put the hospital’s future at the top of their agenda Tuesday morning. How to finance the project was not decided, but a sales tax could be in the mix.
Commissioners approved a request for proposals for a consultant, to be decided in early February, as well as a timeline for how the process might proceed.
A Hospital Facility Committee will be named Dec. 31. The facility committee will be composed of nine members selected from volunteers. Commissioners want to have each area of the county represented and encouraged those interested to apply with written or e-mail applications to County Clerk Sherrie Riebel, any of the three commissioners, or to the county Web site, www.allencounty.org.
Issues with the hospital are:
— Its ability to meet the present and future medical needs of the community.
— The public’s perception of and consumer satisfaction with the current hospital and the impact of those perceptions on the economic viability of the facility.
— If a new facility would be a greater success than a remodeled hospital.
— Estimated costs and sources of funding for a major remodel if such a project is deemed feasible.
— Estimated costs and sources of funding for building and equipping a new hospital.
— Possible sites for a new hospital.
Commission Chairman Dick Works said he wasn’t prepared to propose a new hospital, noting that remodeling “what we have might be better and more fiscally responsible. We might spend $20 million to remodel and expand what we have and be better off in the long run than spending $18 million to build a new hospital.” (Those figures were used only for comparison’s sake and were not meant to put a price tag on either approach, he said.)
Besides offering medical care, the state of a community’s hospital speaks volumes about its greater community, commissioners said.
A new or improved facility “would help with economic development,” Commissioner Rob Francis said, from the perspective of recruiting health professionals and in attracting business and industry.

ALLEN COUNTY Hospital opened in 1957 and replaced St. John’s Hospital, a Catholic-operated facility a mile east of Iola.
Originally managed by a board appointed by county commissioners, the facility was leased to Health Midwest, a non-profit corporation, in 1981. Health Midwest sold its lease interest to the for-profit Health Corporation of America (HCA) in 2003, which has operated the hospital since.
The lease agreement with HCA automatically renews through August 2021, Works noted, but contains a provision for termination with 180 days notice and buyout based on current value of the hospital.
ACH was designated as one of 1,305 critical access hospitals in the United States in 2005. Critical access means a hospital is certified to receive cost-based reimbursements from Medicare, intended to improve the hospitals’ financial performance and reduce closures.