By Alton Porter
The Board of Directors of the Houston County Hospital District (HCHD) is diligently working to find a partner to team up with to reopen the county's hospital.
The directors met in closed session Tuesday, Oct. 24, with representatives of three entities, one of which they might choose to join with them in the near future to open again the hospital in Crockett.
Representatives of the three entities presented proposals on what they would do to reopen and maintain the hospital in the executive session.
HCHD Board President Deborah Blackwell said the representatives of the three organizations were given about 45 minutes each to present their proposals to the directors.
The proposals are being reviewed and considered by the directors and a statement will likely be forthcoming from the board on its consideration of the plans as the board progresses in its review and analysis of them, according to Blackwell.
"It was a late night," Blackwell said, describing the length of the meeting. "Nothing at this time (has been) resolved. We're going to probably have to call another special meeting. As soon as there is anything to announce, we'll let (it be known).
She said she is hopeful something positive—reopening of Houston County's hospital—will come out of the district officials' talks with the three potential partners.
The three organizations for which proposals were presented included CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Frances Health System, represented by Scott Schmidly, group vice president of strategy and business development for CHRISTUS Health Northeast Texas. This is the organization that owns CHRISTUS Trinity Clinic-Crockett, which is currently in operation in one of the buildings on the HCHD hospital's premises.
A second group for which a proposal was presented is CHI St. Luke's Health-Memorial of Lufkin, represented by Monte Bostwick, the organization's market chief executive officer and president.
A third organization for which a proposal was presented is a group that has formed under the name of The Crockett Healthcare Partnership, whose principal members are Dr. Subir Chhikara, a urologist who is affiliated with Seton Medical Center in Austin, and Dr. Kelly E. Tjelmeland, a board-certified cosmetic surgeon and the founding partner of Meridian Plastic Surgery Center in Austin.
During the part of Tuesday's meeting that was open to the public, Blackwell announced she had received a letter earlier that day notifying the board that the T.L.L. Temple Foundation of Lufkin has awarded HCHD a $300,000 grant.
"That's good news," she said, explaining, however, "there are some terms or stipulations on the grant." The three main conditions are "that we find a reputable hospital management partner, that the voters vote to remove the (15 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation) cap (on HCHD's tax rate) and that we remain a licensed hospital," said Blackwell. "So, we can't just open an emergency department."
There are nine such conditions, but these three "are the key things," Blackwell said.
Other stipulations include a requirement that the money be used for the hospital reopening and related activities project and no other purpose, that the district officials conform to all laws and that they submit written evidence of how the money is spent to the foundation staff members.
Blackwell said she applied for the grant right after Timberlands Healthcare ceased operating the hospital and it closed June 30.
During time set aside for public comments at Tuesday's meeting, Dr. Robert Grier, the HCHD board's Position 5 director, said to those present, "I want to encourage all of you to vote for our change of our taxation limit. I want you to vote. I want you to vote for the change, but I want you to vote."
Grier's statement was in reference to the on-going election, in which hospital district registered voters are being asked to vote for a proposition that would remove the current 15-cents cap on HCHD's property tax rate and revert to the general state law, which provides that Texas hospital districts may set their rates between one cent and 75 cents per $100 valuation.
Early voting in the election lasts through tomorrow, Monday, Oct. 30, and is being conducted in the Houston County Courthouse basement in Crockett and the Latexo Independent School District Administration Building in Latexo.
Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 7, and on that day voting will be held at the usual Houston County precinct polling places from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.
Adding to Grier's remarks, Blackwell said, "I'll make one comment along those lines. I made a little statement in the (Thursday, Oct. 26, issue of the Courier). There's concern about the 75 cents (maximum) tax.
"After analyzing what other (neighboring) hospital districts (with similar hospitals) have for tax rates, (most are) somewhere between 19 cents and 29 cents. I can say from my standpoint—and I've talked to several other board members—we are not going to entertain doing something outrageous and raising taxes to some extreme level.
"So, I would say, reasonably (our rate) would be in that range—19 cents to 29 cents. Hopefully, that gives some people some comfort."
County resident Rita Floyd commented, "I think this county can be one of the greatest counties in the State of Texas. But, it takes people changing their old mindsets. I have lived here all my life. ... I also know that I love this county.
"My heart and soul is in this county, and I thank everyone of you who is on this board who has spent your time, your effort, your money, tears, prayers, everything you've done. I appreciate everything you all have done for us.
"It's time that this county changes its mindset and people rally together and come together to make this the best county. That's going to start with this hospital reopening because industries and businesses will come back to this county once a hospital is being re-established (here)."
Floyd said that will happen when "people come together with a new vision, a new purpose, and not stay in the old mindset that we can't afford this and we can't afford that. Until you think you can do differently, you'll never do differently. You're going to be stuck in a rut."
Benford Frizzell, another county resident, said, "There's nobody who hates taxes more than I do, but that's a necessary evil that you have to have. And, in this country where we live, you have to pay it if you want to have what you need.
"I don't know how you people have operated with 15 cents. ... If you don't get it (the proposition) passed and be able to go up so much you're going to go deeper and deeper in debt because everything is going up."