The panel looking into Liberty Regional Medical Center heard some emphatic viewpoints from two local physicians, Dr. Seth Borquaye and Dr. Glenn Carter, at its meeting last week.
Borquaye, who is just ending a three-year stint as chief of staff, said image is one of the biggest factors affecting LRMC.
"In my office, I keep a folder of negative things that have appeared in the paper. When people don't appreciate what you do, it breaks my heart.
"People still think of the old Liberty Regional. They don't know about the new facility. Our PR in the community is very bad. It is like you are fighting against the current."
He said the staff works to recruit new physicians and the hospital recently hired a public relations director.
Borquaye said he and Dr. Chris Vaughn, who is moving to a practice in North Georgia, had been on the hospital staff longer than any of the other doctors.
"We have seen so many transitions," he said, "But the group of physicians we have now is the best and most dedicated I have seen."
Borquaye said the hospital-owned medical office building needs to be upgraded, and panel member Julian Hodges, who is assistant chief of Hinesville Police, asked if doctors were considering building their own offices.
Borquaye said, "Well, you have to ask yourself how solvent the hospital will be...
Hodges then asked, "Doctor, are you going to be around in three or four years?"
Borquaye replied, "I wish I could say that."
Carter, also a former chief of staff at LRMC, has been in a six-year battle with the hospital over privileges. His privileges were revoked at LRMH for a reason that has never explained to the public.
The revocation was followed by protests to the hospital authority and to the county commission, petitions calling for his reinstatement, investigations by three consecutive grand juries, a peer review, efforts at mediation, a lawsuit and lingering animosity.
Carter placed the blame on hospital management, saying it prevented good physicians from being recruited and/or retained.
He said that, using a recent day as an example, he had 10 patients in other hospitals.
"They could be here," he said, "being cared for near their homes and generating revenue for Liberty Regional."
One of Carter's principal points was the statement included in presentments of the February term Liberty County grand jury: "It is our recommendation that unless it can be firmly established that Dr. Carter was guilty of conduct that was illegal, unethical or immoral to a degree that would cause his license to practice to be revoked by the State of Georgia, his privilege to practice at the Authority's facility here in Liberty County be reinstated as soon as possible."
Carter said LRMC had not accepted the recommendation, nor discussed it with him nor acknowledged it in any way.
The patient mix that LRMC serves has made its financial situation difficult, officials have said. This is partly because the hospital provides care to patients with no insurance, or whose insurance reimburses less than the actual cost of care.
The blue ribbon panel scheduled its next meeting for 3 p.m. Nov. 12, and another at the same time on Nov. 19. Sessions are held in the courthouse annex and are open to the public.