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Hospital panel meets
Liberty Regional Medical Center's blue ribbon committee interviews two health officials
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The blue ribbon panel appointed to investigate Liberty Regional Medical Center held its first official meeting Wednesday at the hospital and heard from the chiefs of Coastal Manor nursing home and Liberty EMS.
The group, comprised of Liberty County residents, met previously and chose retired Army judge Kenneth Pangburn to serve as chairman.
Committee members quizzed Jim Turner, director of Liberty EMS, about the ambulance service provided in Liberty and Long counties.
Turner told the panel that LRMC had established a separate corporation to handle billing to Medicare, a move that maximizes reimbursements to the hospital.
Turner explained that Liberty and Long counties each purchase and equip ambulances for use in their respective counties, a process that costs about $200,000 per vehicle. Turner told the committee how ambulances are scheduled to cover peak times of need, and said extending operations into Long County has been profitable because Long commissioners make payments to support the service, and supply vehicles, a station and equipment.
Hospital officials have been approached by Tattnall County and are considering a deal, under which LRMC would provide ambulance service there as well.
Turner told the committee that an EMS station currently is needed to serve eastern Liberty County, but added that station could be combined with a medical clinic and fire station.
Turner and hospital CEO Scott Kroell presented this idea at last month's meeting of the Liberty County Development Authority. The LCDA appeared to favor the idea and discussions will continue. Several small volunteer fire departments and the EMS station in Midway now serve East Liberty.
Also on Wednesday, the panel interviewed Elise Stafford, administrator of Coastal Manor Nursing Home in Ludowici. Stafford said the nursing home operated as a department of Liberty Regional Medical Center, describing it as a cash cow for the hospital.
The 102-bed nursing home frequently has a 98 percent occupancy rate, Stafford said. She added that the nursing home shares some services, such as dietary planning, with the hospital. Coastal Manor received an initial Certificate of Need in 2000, along with a pledge for more beds to allocate to Long and McIntosh counties.
Blue ribbon panel member Russ Toal, a former commissioner of the state's Department of Medical Assistance, observed that obtaining a required state Certificate of Need for nursing home beds is a difficult, complicated process. In the way of increasing profits, Toal asked about the possible expansion of operations that would not require a Certificate of Need, such as assisted living, outpatient care and adult day care.
Stafford enthusiastically replied that she was eager to expand operations.
The committee also heard briefly from Kroell, who said, "a lot of little things" were being done to help the hospital with its financial plight. He cited the Tricare insurance system for soldiers and their families, which does not reimburse the hospital enough to cover the cost of providing service. Kroell said relief in that area would require "more traction in Washington than we have had."
Kroell said Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas and "the CG" (Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch of Fort Stewart and the Third Infantry Division) were particularly helpful.
The hospital's medical records department, another area of need the panel observed and documented, is tightly crammed with patients' charts. Medical Records Chief Ramona Martin said that her department is running out of space, and she was told the county's centralized records retention center was facing the same problem.
Lab chief Donald Lovette, a county commissioner, also identified space - and more competitive salaries - as a chief concern.
"We have just run out of space," Lovette said, gesturing at a lab crowded with refrigerators and equipment.
The committee members received financial data to study and plan to reconvene next month. Members of the blue ribbon panel were appointed by the county commission at the same time the commission voted to approve a tax millage increase for the hospital.
Members include Pangburn, Toal, Assistant Hinesville Police Chief Julian Hodges, Annette Lloyd and Sharon Martin.
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