Pemiscot County began to feel the crunch of unemployment today as the first employees furloughed by Pemiscot Memorial Health Systems began their lay-off and began filing unemployment claims. The employees, who worked and finished one week of the upcoming pay-period, were let go after Hospital officials told the public last week that they had up to four million dollars in debt, and may not be able to keep the doors open without laying off up to one-third of their employees.
The last statistics available from the Missouri Department of Employment Security set the unemployment rate for Pemiscot County in June of this year at nine point seven percent. These new applications will certainly boost that rate in an already impoverished county.
Pemiscot County Presiding Commissioner Jim Atchison says that the layoffs will affect the entire county, from sales taxes to business patronage. Atchison says the problems at the hospital may have other far reaching consequences for the citizens of the county. “When you look at the broad picture, it (the lay-offs and possible closure) affect two of our nursing homes, emergency medical services, and doctors’ clinics,” he said, “The lay-offs may be a bitter pill to swallow, but they may also be necessary to try to save the hospital.”
Atchison also explained that while the hospital does receive some tax money, it is governed as a separate political entity and not under the control of the County Commission. “They (PMHS) are a political subdivision, like a school district,” he said, “They are governed by their own Board and the county receives no revenue from what they make. The elected Board handles all of the decisions, just like school boards do.”
“Most of our residents do not have transportation,” Atchison said, “If they have to leave the area for medical care, I am not sure that they would be able to.”
A petition, started by one employee who was laid off, has garnered more than 250 signatures, asking Attorney General Chris Koster to step in and investigate payments to the employee retirement funds and comments have expanded that petition to potential conflict of interests between a Hospital Board member and his business dealings. According to a story in the Tuesday, August 20, 2013 edition of the Democrat Argus, former CEO Kerry Noble asked for the resignation of Board Member Glenn Haynes. One of the issues was Haynes’ company taking over the billing of accounts at PMHS.
As employees were laid off yesterday, they were asked by hospital officials if they would be willing to wait on payment of their vacation days. Most declined, with one saying they needed the money to make up for the impending loss of wages. Some employees indicated they were told they might be called back, while others were not given any indication of a call-back.
Since the lay-offs and petition, state official have been meeting with the county and the hospital and sources indicate that a payment by the state will be expedited to help meet the payroll needs of August 30, 2013. County officials have confirmed a special meeting of the PMHS Board has also been called for Monday, August 26, 2013. No one from PMHS was available to comment on the content of that meeting.