Hospital seeks new tax

For the first time in its operating history, Abbeville General is proposing a one half cent sales tax for this July’s election to provide for hospital building maintenance and the operations needed to run the emergency room.

Since replacing the Palms Hospital in February 1966 as a community based, non-profit health care provider, Abbeville General Hospital has been receiving a millage property tax to pay for itself and is down to its final two payments.

The year 2010 will have the hospital debt free from its initial and expansion bonds.

However, there will also be no additional revenue coming in to address the physical needs and repairs to the building or for expanding patient services in the hospital emergency room.

Hospital Administrator Ray Landry said “that since 2003, I’ve been inviting various members of the community in to a lunch-time meeting to establish a Citizens Advisory Council to understand our faults and learn how we can better serve our patients and their families. Also, I wanted to let people know where the money was going and what was going to happen when the bond issue was actually paid off in a couple of years.

He added, The state adopted a resolution to allow us to be able to go to the citizens being served by the hospital to allow us to pass a sales tax to operate and improve the building structure and the emergency room. This money would be dedicated to those two issues only and, by law, cannot be used for any other purpose. We’re (the hospital) at a stage where we have to look for revenue solutions and knew it was a good idea to get away from the tax millage system.”

Abbeville General serves the majority of Vermilion Parish, excluding Kaplan and Gueydan on the western edge.

Hospital board member (retired) General Bob LeBlanc said, “that without the funds, the emergency room would most likely have to close. It cost us $1.5 million to remove the asbestos from the hospital and that had to come out of our savings and operating funds. With the delayed payment from Medicare and Medicaid and waiting for reimbursements from the state on treatments to the indigent, money gets tight. We have to treat everyone (referring to indigent’s) who walks in through the doors, but it’s generally 18 months later before we get paid for providing the service to the patient without insurance.”

“We employ over 300 people here and there are guidelines as to who gets hired. First, applicants have to live in the hospital district as a resident of Vermilion Parish; and then consideration has to be given to our residents before the administrators can start looking out of the parish to hire anyone. My daughter has been a doctor in Oklahoma City for 15 years and she recently came back to help take care of an ailing family member. She commented that the nurses we have on staff here were some of the best she’s ever seen. She said you don’t get this level of service anywhere,” commented LeBlanc.

Abbeville Mayor Mark Piazza went on record to offer what ever assistance the city could provide to help pass the sales tax for the hospital.

“We have almost 200 employees in life threatening situations every day between the Police, Fire and Electric departments and there are all of the oil and gas plus agricultural sections that needs this hospital to survive,” Piazza said. “Abbeville would not be what it is today, or what it could be in the future, without the hospital. The business community needs to get behind and support this tax for the hospital.”

Businessman Tim Cresswell said that “had the hospital not been here, the hands I’ve had to bring in from accidents in the field might not have been able to make it.”

Assessor-elect Kathy Broussard said, “the community needs to come together for the common good of keeping the hospital. We can’t afford to loose this hospital. And from our family experience in the restaurant business, I know that word of mouth can do an awful lot to get the message out to everyone about what’s happening.”

General LeBlanc said that the emergency room is totally different from how the hospital is trying to reach out to the community through their Rural Health Clinics.

“Women 20 - 30 years of age with no insurance, due to their income bracket, use the ER more than the health clinics. We have to work with them to get more in line with the medical home concept,” LeBlanc said. “With this program, they (patients) could go to the clinic, show their income and be charged according to the amount they’re able to pay. The federal government is helping to fund this initiative. We have to tame the diabetic conditions in our area and learn how to live healthier. Right now Louisiana is 49th in colon rectal cancer and Vermilion Parish is even worse on the bottom end of the state.”

The people in attendance at the Citizens Advisory Board meeting expressed a majority of support for the hospital in proposing the one half cent sales tax and felt that passing the tax would be a benefit to everyone.

In the Abbeville General Hospital District, mayors from all of the communities being served, along with members of the Police Jury, were also present. Maurice Mayor Bob Ferguson did ask a theoretical question about adding another tax on top of their eight and three quarters per cent tax already being collected.

The sales tax estimated by the hospital would generate approximately $1.5 million annually, compared to the roughly $700,000 brought in from the property tax millage. “However,” said Ray Landry, “when 2010 comes and that last payment is made on the bond indebtedness, that money won’t be coming in any more either.”

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