Complications emerge with funding dialysis subsidy

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A potential roadblock to Franklin County’s taking part in a start-up subsidy to bring a kidney dialysis facility to the campus of Ascension Sacred Heart surfaced at the county commission meeting Tuesday morning.

The Weems Memorial Hospital board of directors plans to weigh in on the matter at its Jan. 27 board meeting and make a recommendation for the county commission’s February meeting.

But based on a report from County Attorney Michael Shuler, county commissioners may find their options are limited when it comes to finding up to $25,000 a year, for each of the next five years, to chip in to Gulf County’s plans to provide a $100,000 subsidy, for each of the next five years, to bring in Fresenius Medical Center North America.

Fresenius, the nation’s largest dialysis provider, has proposed putting a facility into a medical office building on the campus of Ascension Sacred Heart on the Gulf in Port St Joe.

A previous facility by DaVita Kidney Care operated, up until it closed down a year ago, out of the building, which is owned by a private entity, separate from Ascension.

Gulf County has proposed Franklin pay a proportion of the subsidy in keeping with its proportion of patients, not to exceed $25,000 a year.

In a Jan. 11 report to the commissioners, Shuler advised that neither the 2007 ballot measure approved by voters, nor the ordinance that imposed a one-cent healthcare sales tax throughout the county, and which was linked to a pair of inter-local agreements with the two cities, allowed for funds to be spent out of the county.

Rather, he noted, the sole purposes were limited to constructing a medical clinic in Carrabelle, upgrading the ambulance service and “and paying the cost of operations of healthcare infrastructure and services, including the construction and paying debt service on bonds to construct a new public hospital facility to replace Weems Memorial Hospital.”

Shuler advised that for the purpose of covering the cost of a subsidy, the commissioners could consider the use of non-surtax revenues from Weems, the use of ad valorem tax revenues in the 2022-23 fiscal year budget, or of initiating a process to amend the two interlocal agreements to allow the use of the funds in Gulf County. That process would require approval by the county and both cities.

Commissioner Noah Lockley said he would consider factoring in the expenditure in next year’s budget.

“Why are we going through this?” he told County Coordinator Michael Morón. “The money can’t leave Franklin County.”

Morón noted that Weems could use some of its operational money that is not derived from the one-cent surtax.

“I don’t want it to come across that there are dialysis patients that deal with this on a daily basis and that they're not worth it,” he said. 

Most estimates are that there are at least a half-dozen kidney dialysis patients in the county, and likely more, who now must travel to Tallahassee or Panama City to receive treatment.

“I want to see the people took care of,” Lockley said. “I’m not opposed to it if something can be worked out next year.”

He also suggested that Weems consider instituting a kidney treatment program of its own. “I believe it would be cheaper to do this here,” Lockley said.

“The Weems board will have a chance to weigh in on this,” said Chairman Ricky Jones.

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