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Hospital’s Growth Plan Remains In Early Phase

By David Howell

COFFEEVILLE – An aggressive $6 million dollar plan to add new health services and renovate the county-owned hospital appears to be moving forward.
    Yalobusha General Hospital and Nursing Home Administrator Terry Varner received an initial thumbs up for the plan from supervisors during an August meeting, a sentiment that did not change when the matter resurfaced in a mid-September meeting.
    But Board President Tommy Vaughn did clarify that the county’s borrowing capacity would not support funding the entire $6 million using General Obligation (GO) bonds.
    The county’s bonding capacity is capped, based on a percentage of the assessed value, a figure Vaughn quoted as around $11.5 million.     “We are going to have to keep those GO bonds to a minimum because we got to look to the future. Our school system in the next 10 to 12 years is going to hit us really hard. If we tie up all our money (bonding capacity), we will not be able to address that,” Vaughn told Varner.
    The hospital is also county-owned, which means GO bonds issued count against the county’s cap.
    In response, Varner reiterated that the hospital was weighing a blended financing option, a mixture of GO bonds and revenue bonds for the project. Revenue bonds would not affect the county’s borrowing capacity – instead revenue from the hospital would be pledged for repayment.  
    “We need to have some sort of revenue and possibly all of it may have to be revenue,” Varner ex-plained about financing methods during the Sept. 15 meeting.
    “I think we could probably afford that assisted living center on our bond,” Vaughn said.
    The price tag identified by Varner for the assisted living center was $1.75 million. Other portions of the project and their respective cost include:  $500,000 for a children’s daycare, $425,000 for an adult daycare center, $750,000 for a nursing home dining room, $500,000 for a lab and interior renovations at the hospital and $600,000 for an exterior renovations at the hospital.    
    A $500,000 storm shelter that would also serve as a community center was also on the preliminary plan but Varner said it had been removed.
    Varner also said the hospital could receive tax credits as part of the New Markets Tax Credit Program
    “Based on our demographics, we could be eligible for up to $1.5 million, maybe even $2 million,” Varner explained.
    Varner said the projects would create around 40 new jobs. The hospital currently employees 184 full-time workers and 67 part-time workers.
More Questions
    Vaughn also raised another concern during the September meeting, the possibility that Medicare and Medicaid funding could change and negatively affect the hospital’s bottom line.  
    “A large part of your money is generated from Medicare and Medicaid,” Vaughn said.    “With the situation as it is on the national level, where they are talking about doing some modifications to that… that’s a concern of mine,” Vaughn said.
    “That is what keeps me up at night,” Varner said, adding that senior care seems pretty stable. “We just keep looking for those new avenues of revenue so we are not sitting there waiting on Medicare admissions,” he added. “It is tight. There have been cuts. It’s harder now to get a patient admitted from a Medicare standpoint than it ever has been. All we can do is budget and be real frugal. We are pretty good at that. But there are no guarantees. Definitely not,” Varner answered.
    District 5 Supervisor Frank “Bubba” Tillman had one final question on the county’s healthcare system.
    “Terry, a question that came up the last time you were here. Did we say anything about about building some type of assisted living center in Oakland?” Tillman asked.
    Varner explained that a 20-bed assisted living center in Water Valley would likely pull residents from the nursing home, creating empty beds.
    “To offset that, we would want to take some of our nursing home beds and put them in Coffeeville and Oak-land,” Varner explained. 

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