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Hospital district OKs $300k payment, backs Marfa Meds

January 27th, 2011 under Top Stories

By TOM HAINES

MARFA – In a quick and relatively quiet board meeting last week, the Big Bend Regional Hospital District formalized a one-time $300,000 payment to the area’s only hospital.

The board had voted 4-1 at its previous meeting to make the payment to make up for a smaller-than-expected contribution to the hospital through the so-called Upper Payment Limit system in December.

Board member Al Tobola said at last Thursday’s meeting that the board had not realized at its previous meeting that it could not just give money away. So a service agreement letter was drafted, detailing that the hospital would use the money for indigent care and clinic expansion. That letter, Tobola said, was signed by Mike Ellis, chief operating officer of the hospital, Big Bend Regional Medical Center, and Elena Olivas, chair of the hospital district board.

The board voted 4-1 to ratify the service agreement. Only member Don Culbertson voted against, as he has consistently since December.

It was a house-keeping act: the $300,000 check had already been cut and cashed before the meeting.

The action more or less completed a two-month-long pendulum swing in which the hospital district and Big Bend Regional Medical Center went from being close partners to not, briefly, and back again.

The hospital district is a public, bi-county agency tasked with using taxpayer funds to provide indigent care and other health programs in Brewster and Presidio counties.

The hospital, a for-profit entity owned by Community Health Systems, of Tennessee, had operated the hospital district’s indigent care program for more than a decade. In December, concerned about the timeliness and efficiency of the management of the program, the hospital district board voted unanimously to take control of the program’s operations.

The following week, four of the hospital district board members – Tobola, Lee Roberts, Johnnie Chambers, and Elena Olivas – reversed their position, returning the program to BBRMC.

At last Thursday’s meeting, Ellis presented the board with information it had asked for for months: a report on how much BBRMC spends to administer the indigent program.

Ellis provided a column of data that showed that the program cost BBRMC $725,000, more than the roughly $560,000 the hospital district provides to cover the indigent program costs.

“Those numbers are actual,” he told the board.

Ellis had long contended BBRMC loses money operating the indigent program. His data did not detail how that $725,000 cost broke down.

In other business, Culbertson told the board that Marfa Meds, a pilot program to deliver prescriptions from Alpine pharmacies for distribution in Marfa, had received a $25,000 grant from the Brown Foundation.

Marfa Meds had operated for some months last year, but closed prematurely due to lack of funding. Culbertson said that the Brown Foundation grant would cover roughly six months of operations. He said another grant is pending that could bring as much as $48,000 to cover another year’s worth of cost. He asked the board to consider funding operations of Marfa Meds should that second grant not come through.

The board voted unanimously to accept the Brown Foundation grant, but did not act on the guarantee request.

Culbertson said that Marfa Meds learned a lot from its first term of operation; any new arrangement, he said, should clearly communicate consistent service to the public.

Details of when and how to reopen Marfa are in the works.

The hospital district board will hold its next meeting at 6:30pm on February 9 in Alpine.

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