By Chris Edwards
WOODVILLE – Dr. Sandra Gayle Wright, CEO of Tyler County Hospital, asked county commissioners for an increase in hospital property tax rates during a special meeting on Monday afternoon.
During the special meeting of the Tyler County Commissioners Court, for which the proposed increase, was the only agenda item, Wright spoke of several factors affecting rural healthcare facilities. Wright asked the court for a raise of $0.0350 per $100,000 valuation increase in taxpayers’ hospital property tax rates. The increase will take TCH from 0.2096 to 0.2446, which is the minimum amount needed to maintain the hospital’s services.
“We’re facing impact from the government with all of the regulatory changes as well as getting less money from the services we provide,” Wright told the county officials.
She submitted a letter articulating TCH’s need and her concerns to the four commissioners and Tyler County Judge Jacques Blanchette. The letter, which is addressed to the residents of Tyler County, lists factors such as increases in the cost of indigent care services, emergency room services, inpatient services and a reduction in program and grant monies as justification for the increase.
“State and federal laws require us to maintain a certain level of staff even though the patient census is low,” the letter states. “We lost doctors over the years, which severely decreased our volume of hospital inpatients.”
Wright said that programs that benefited the hospital in the past, including the Medicaid Wavier program, is paying less. She said the hospital is not receiving as much from its nursing program as it had in the past.
“We’ve been using those programs to keep the hospital open as well as the property tax,” she said.
Another problem facing the hospital, Wright said, is that the majority of the hospital’s costs are fixed, despite the low number of inpatients at the facility. “We cannot reduce enough cost when the volume decreases,” she said.
She cited examples of other hospitals in the region that have shuttered, including Crockett and Trinity, as representative of the problem facing rural healthcare. “Other rural hospital cost of operation is the same, but the difference in property tax is what keeps their doors open,” Wright’s letter states.
The letter continues to state that the rate increase is “a small price to pay to keep the hospital doors open and to save a life, which may be your own.”
The average market value of a home in Tyler County is $82,000 and at this value assessment, the homeowner will see an increase of $28.70 each year in their tax rate with the proposed increase. It would also bring a $382,875.83 increase to TCH’s annual revenue.
Wright said TCH has taken “drastic” steps to cut costs, including cutting benefits and laying off some staff. She said that the inability to give employees a raise in three years has hurt morale.
TCH had to stop its retirement program in July, a move Wright said was the worst cut the hospital had to make. In the increase, one cent is earmarked for retirement. The 3% retirement match was listed as the first item on a list of proposed uses for the tax funds, which Wright presented at the meeting.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Walston said he was concerned about the morale of the employees as well as keeping the hospital’s doors open before the officials unanimously voted to approve the increase. Hearings for the tax increase were set for Sept. 12 and 26.