County Plans To Eliminate Hospital Funding Support, Not Fulfill Capital Campaign Pledge

County Plans To Eliminate Hospital Funding Support, Not Fulfill Capital Campaign Pledge
File photo by Charlene Sharpe

SNOW HILL –  The Worcester County Commissioners voted not to provide funding to Atlantic General Hospital in the coming fiscal year.

During a budget work session Tuesday, the commissioners voted 4-3 to eliminate the usual $175,000 contribution to the hospital from the fiscal year 2021 budget. Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said he hoped the decision would encourage the hospital to seek funding from neighboring Sussex County.

“Almost 40% of their emergency room visits come out of Sussex County yet Sussex County pays nothing to this hospital,” Mitrecic said. “They donate nothing to the hospital.”

The budget being reviewed Tuesday included a grant of $175,000 to the hospital, which had requested $300,000. Commissioner Jim Bunting quickly made a motion to “zero out” the line item.

“I don’t think we should be giving anything to any nonprofits,” Bunting said when asked about his rationale for making the cut. He added that he intended to work toward zeroing out all grants to social services.

Commissioner Diana Purnell spoke out against the cut.

“In this time of the pandemic … to zero out grants to Atlantic General Hospital would be detrimental to our community,” she said. “The hospital’s going to need everything they can get.”

Commissioner Bud Church agreed and said he didn’t think the decision would sit well with the citizens of Worcester County.

“Worcester County residents may not be happy with the $175,000 cut from their donation however they probably don’t understand how many people are coming out of Sussex County using that hospital and their taxpayers aren’t paying for it,” Mitrecic said. “To me this is more a motion to tell them that they need to pursue Sussex County and funding other places.”

The commissioners voted 4-3, with Church, Purnell and Commissioner Josh Nordstrom opposed, to eliminate the contribution to Atlantic General Hospital (AGH).

AGH President/CEO Michael Franklin called the commissioners move “a very disappointing decision” and said in a statement “we sincerely hope that the Commissioners will reconsider this decision.”

“The $175,000 that was discussed during yesterday’s meeting is actually a cumulative amount combined from two separate requests,” said Franklin. “$100,000 of that amount was a continuation of the Commissioners’ 5-year pledge to support the hospital’s Campaign for the Future to update and renovate our facilities as outlined in our master facility plan to meet the needs of our expanding community. The decision to discontinue that commitment in year 4 of 5 of their pledge may set an ill-fated precedent with others that have similar pledges, and that will significantly impact our ability to continue with those plans.”

During his annual presentation to the commissioners for funding support in March, Franklin was questioned by Mitrecic about the hospital’s growth pattern. Mitrecic recounted an experience he had personally, as well as others he had spoken to, when the hospital did not provide appropriate health care.

“We keep expanding, we keep building, we keep moving, we keep doing all this other stuff,” Mitrecic said. “Why don’t we concentrate on making the actual hospital that we have right there the best hospital it can be instead of adding all this stuff? … As far as us winning awards for the emergency room, getting people in and out fast doesn’t do anything for me. Getting somebody out with the right diagnosis and treating them the right way, that’s what’s important. … I think you’re trying to grow way too fast and we need to concentrate on getting the health care to the people in our community that they need and then expanding,”

In response to Mitrecic’s concerns at the public meeting in March, Franklin said, “If we don’t have enough physicians in our community to provide that necessary access, that creates another problem. We’ve got to have a balance between having enough providers, expanding to meet the needs by having access to health care services, as well as making sure that when they get there they’re getting the right care.”

In his statement this week about the annual funding being removed from the budget, Franklin said the county’s contribution outside the campaign pledge was needed for operations.

“The additional $75,000 is a separate annual grant request to the commissioners to support annual hospital operations,” said Franklin. “Each year we present to the commissioners how these funds were used in the prior year, and outline how we plan to use the funds in the upcoming year to recruit additional providers and resources, and to provide critical health care services to our community. I presented this information to our commissioners in March this year. It is unfortunate that some of the commissioners do not see the need to continue to provide our expanding community with these much needed health care services.”

Franklin said the commissioners were told in March the hospital seeks funding from neighboring Sussex County each year.

“We’ve reported to the commissioners that we regularly provide the same request for funding assistance to the Sussex County Commissioners,” Franklin said. “Atlantic General Hospital recently requested and received support from the state of Delaware for our critically ill patients. We would not have been able to receive this support if we had not requested it, due to the care we were providing for our Sussex County residents.”

The commissioners went on to review funding requests from other social service organizations. Bunting, as he indicated with the hospital grant, made a motion to zero out every grant except those to the Worcester County Developmental Center, Wor-Wic Community College and Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services. While Commissioner Ted Elder seconded several of those motions, none of them earned the support of the majority of the commissioners.

The commissioners are expected to adopt a final budget on June 2 following two additional budget work sessions this month.

Franklin said this week he is hopeful the county will reconsider its position on cutting out nonprofits from annual grants.

“Discontinuing funding support to all non-profits will put added stress on those citizens most at risk, and will create a disproportionate strain on the health department and hospital moving forward,” said Franklin. “As I shared in my presentation in March, and in prior years, the management of social issues in communities has a direct effect on the overall health of a community. Worcester County has made great strides over the past five years, this way of thinking will negatively influence that process.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.