Two days after Pemiscot Memorial Health Systems began instituted furloughs for up to one-third of its’ employees, many in the community are talking about the effects of possible double digit unemployment, local issues surrounding health care, possible conflicts of interest between the Board members and services they receive compensation for, and the possible closure of the institution and the vital healthcare services it provides to an impoverished county. While a furloughed employee has requested state officials investigate and provide an audit of the facilities through an online petition, one local businessman, has been discussing more far reaching issues for some time.
Mike Abbott, a local community bank president, sent a letter to President Obama in May of this year and forwarded copies of that letter to state and federal legislators and the Hospital Board, along with several media outlets. Abbott has not received answers to his inquiry but brings up points of concern for the sustainability of the health care institution, if they can get past the current financial crisis.
In his letter Abbott states, “A large majority of our population rely on Pemiscot Memorial Health Systems as the main and only provider for their health care needs. PMHS provides hospital and emergency room services, an outpatient rehabilitation department, 2 nursing homes and 5 rural health care clinics located for convenience throughout the county. The health system has struggled financially due to providing healthcare service to the uninsured and underinsured residents of the Bootheel area. Financial viability further declined in 2005 when Missouri reduced eligibility requirements for Medicaid and repeated attempts to restore those levels have failed. This facility has used all excess funds from past profitability and other programs to fund current operating deficits but those funds have been depleted. Budgets have been streamlined and all non-essential employees were laid off including construction, maintenance and transportation (which greatly reduces the availability of health services). PMHS cannot continue to provide essential healthcare services faced with the current reimbursement levels. Recently the staffs, after 3 years with no salary increase, were told by the board that they must contribute 6% of their salary to the self-insured insurance pool in order to maintain their medical coverage and accumulated sick leave was slashed. Effective June 1st (this year) there will be an increase in their dental insurance premium and long term disability will be discontinued. Understandably there appears a probable mass exit of key personnel to other areas to secure jobs and provide stability for their families. Mr. President, it appears these issues cause much uncertainty about the future of health care for our residents but the fact remains they need and deserve proper care.”
Prior to furloughs, PMHS employees lost most of their accumulated sick days, were forced to pay six percent of their gross pay for health insurance, and gave up other benefits. Abbott and others remain concerned that the issues cause employees to leave the hospital and move to other facilities and make it difficult to draw employees to the area. Furloughed employees were asked if they could wait on their vacation pay on their final paychecks.
The hospital has cited debts of at least four million and some companies that service the hospital admit that the facility is on a cash only basis for services. This leaves some current employees wondering if they can continue to provide quality care to the patients.
Abbott said his letter was sent to call awareness to the situation and see if state or federal officials could step in and figure out how to help the debt ridden institution. The hospital serves a population base that is largely on fixed incomes and under insured or not insured at all.
Abbott hopes that his letter will help raise awareness for the healthcare needs of the community and find a way for everyone to work on saving the facility now, and making it more sustainable in the future. He ends his letter to President Obama by stating, “Most importantly, this is not about politics, it is about the people.” Abbott just hopes that state and federal officials can provide some much needed answers and help.
As of today, the Hospital Board will be holding a special meeting Monday, August 26th.