Heartland hospital in need of votes to survive

IRON COUNTY, MO (KFVS) - The Iron County Hospital in Pilot Knob is in dire need of help. So much that hospital leaders are asking for the peoples help with a half-cent sales tax on the next ballot coming up in April.

"It really is an urgent matter," Iron County Hospital District CEO Joshua Gilmore stated. "I would say that even with the passage of this, it is going to be a real struggle to try and achieve sustainability for this organization."

This tax will affect everyone that purchases items in the county; not just residents but those that travel through the area that make purchases as well.

If approved, the tax could generate roughly $350,000 to $420,000 per year for the hospital. Something Gilmore said they desperately need.

"People understand that we aren't asking for this without having thought it through," Gilmore added. "We did put off asking for it until we absolutely had to. Their (voters) ability to help support their local health system is huge, that they are a part of our ability to sustain a health care here."

If the sales tax is not approved, it could possibly end up an area of multiple counties without a hospital.

"There are a variety of potential outcomes if we were not to be sustainable," Gilmore added. "Closure is a definitive possibility. If we can't get to where we can be sustainable. Other alternatives would be to look for a merger or acquisition or an affiliation with another organization. Right now, given our current financial situation, we're not very attractive to any of those other larger entities out there."

He said that with the closure of the Ellington health facility recently, it is critical for a hospital to be in this area so people don't have to travel farther away for healthcare. Gilmore said, if the facility does close, it could create a hospital desert.

If the hospital were to close, the closest critical access hospitals in the area would be Fredericktown or Farmington which is roughly 30 minutes away.

The greatest effect for those people, Gilmore said, would be those that need access to critical needs.

"If we lose that capacity here, we will have folks that have poor outcomes and possibly even die because they can't get the care they need in a timely fashion."

Currently, Iron County Hospital is in an overall current debt of 7.6 million dollars, which includes 1.6 million lost just last year alone. Gilmore said they need to get to some sustainability first and turn these financial hurdles around.

"What I see coming down the road is it becoming harder and harder to become sustainable," Gilmore said. "Having the extra half-cent sales tax will go a long way towards ensuring that we have a consistent revenue stream that will help us meet our needs for the organization."

One of the reasons they have seen struggle is the lack of full reimbursement for Medicare.

"Reimbursements are not increasing over time," Gilmore said. "We are seeing cutbacks in Medicare, likely to see cutbacks in Medicaid and other financial assistance programs."

Gilmore does want to let the public know they are doing everything in their power right now to keep afloat and rectify their financial frustrations.

"We actually have access to Stroudwater through a new grant that we received," Gilmore said. "That is a brand new opportunity through the Delta Regional Authority and HRSA that has allowed us to have access to technical expertise without having to pay out of pocket ourselves. So the grant doesn't provide us with any operational dollars but it pays for other outside experts to come in and help us."

This grant is good for three years of outside help. This facility was one of only nine in the nation to receive this grant.

Gilmore does say they aren't the only one struggling in America though as finances have become an issue for a lot of hospitals.

"Over 650 rural critical access hospitals are at severe financial risk nationally," Gilmore added. "Roughly half of the critical access program is in danger for closure given the current reimbursements and challenges they face."

Gilmore is hopeful for a positive outcome and says an approval for the half-cent sales tax could help them avoid closure. The closure is something he doesn't want as he said it could lead to possible future loss to the community surrounding them.

"It has been shown time again across the country that if you lose a local hospital, often times a small rural town begins to fade," Gilmore added. "We want to make sure that we are here not just to ensure the overall health of the population but the health of the community itself. To ensure a strong viable infrastructure for the community."

Gilmore is thankful for all the support the community has given the hospital over the years and says he is hopeful that voters will think about what the hospital means to the community and approves the sales tax.

"We think that this community has shown the support in the past for this organization," Gilmore stated. "We have the support of the community to make that happen. Moreover, I feel we have the right team here and the right expertise at hand to get us from where we are and where we need to be."

If approved, the half-cent tax would remain in effect unless and until voted out.

"It is so vitally important that we stand together to make sure that it succeeds," Gilmore concluded. "I want to thank the community for their ongoing generosity and support for this organization."

Download the KFVS News app: iPhone | Android

Copyright 2018 KFVS. All rights reserved.