QVMC heads back to city with new loan proposal
Grant County commissioners, in opposing a proposed surcharge on tickets sold at the Gorge Amphitheatre, may have jeopardized the hospital’s efforts to secure a $1.5 million loan from the City of Quincy, the CEO of Quincy Valley Medical Center said.
“You show me what you’ve done to help with this situation,” a frustrated Medhi Merred said about the county commissioners. “I want to know what they’re going to do.”
The hospital is asking that the city buy $1.5 million of its debt from the county. The county currently is holding more than $2.9 million in registered warrants on the hospital, according to hospital numbers.
The county has said the hospital’s warrant line must be at $3 million by June 1.
In December, Merred presented a repayment schedule to the city council. The city council then voted to begin preparing a loan agreement between it and the hospital.
However, now the hospital is drafting another repayment option for the city, which city councilman are expected to discuss at their March 31 retreat. The new repayment option takes the proposed surcharge, which is struggling at the state level, out of the equation.
“The city’s help is going to be very, very important,” Merred said.
The surchage is proposed under HB 1009, which would allow county commissioners to assess a $1 surcharge on every ticket sold at the Gorge Amphitheatre. The surcharge would be divided between the hospital and fire district.
While a companion bill died in the Senate, HB 1009 remains alive because it has been tagged as necessary to implement the budget, which means it can be revived at any point during the session. The session ends April 31.
Merred said he’s angry the hospital is getting little support from county commissioners, who submitted a letter in opposition to the surcharge at the start of the legislative session. Hospital officials have said they were blindsided by the county’s opposition.
In fact, if he had known the commissioners’ position, he would have presented different options to the city back in December, Merred said.
What commissioners are forgetting is that they are putting the hospital district’s taxpayers on the line for the money owed to the county, said Randy Zolman, president of the hospital board.
Meanwhile, the hospital at its regular meeting on Monday reported it is operating at a loss of about $484,000 so far this year. February alone saw a $239,988 loss.
“Even though this is far from a stellar month, it’s somewhat comparable to where we were a year ago,” said Don Condit, hospital commissioner.
Merred said that while the $239,000 the hospital lost in February is alarming, it cannot be called a trend.
Patient numbers are typically at their lowest during the first quarter of the year. Those numbers tend to pick back up in April and May.
Already the emergency room is seeing more patients than it did last month, said Alicia Shields, chief of nursing.
The hospital’s clinic also saw more patients in February than it did a year ago, Merred added.
Hospital numbers also show that operating expenses are below budget this year. Merred is expecting a loss of about $400,000 in 2014.
Rural hospitals are struggling around the nation, Merred said. Some 31 closed in 2013 and about double that are expected to close in 2015, he said.
However, the common thread in these hospitals is they are operating in a struggling economy, Merred said. Quincy’s local economy is not struggling, he said.
“I don’t put our hospital in that category,” he said.
— By Jill FitzSimmons, email@example.com