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Trego seeking warrants for hospital

12/5/2012

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

WaKEENEY -- Trego County commissioners have agreed to ask for $1.8 million in no-fund warrants to help cover a cash shortfall in the county-owned hospital.

Trego County residents will have to repay the money, plus interest, during the next four years, through a special levy that could be in excess of 8 mills.

Much of the shortfall precipitating the request for no-fund warrants stems from a sharp -- but temporary -- reduction in the Medicare reimbursement rate received by Trego County-Lemke Memorial Hospital.

Because of the hospital's heavy use by Medicare recipients, Administrator Harold Courtois said the loss during the course of approximately three months amounted to nearly $600,000.

The reduction amounted to approximately 21 percent.

The reimbursement rate, he said, finally was restored in November to nearly its previous level, but not before the cash shortfall grew, setting in motion a downward spiral that forced hospital administrators and its board to ask for help from the Trego County Commission.

There's also a relatively lengthy lag between the time a rate is changed and when the higher reimbursement rate actually is received, Courtois said.

The resolution asking for the $1.8 million in no-fund warrants will be published this week in WaKeeney's Western Kansas World.

Trego County Clerk Lori Augustine said the publication is followed by a 60-day protest period, after which bids will be solicited for the money. Obtaining no-fund warrants is similar to issuing general obligation bonds.

During the course of the 60-day protest period, a petition with signatures from 5 percent of the registered voters in Trego County can bring the issue to a vote.

With approximately 2,250 registered voters in Trego County, only about 115 signatures are needed to force a vote.

Courtois said the hospital only receives approximately $135,000 annually from Trego County, much lower than surrounding hospitals.

Gove County allocates nearly $860,000 annually to its medical center, he said, while Russell Regional Hospital gets $1.1 million.

Ness County's two hospitals, in Ness City and Ransom, received approximately $2 million, Courtois said.

Money from the no-fund warrants will be used to cover the hospital's shortfall through January 2014.

Next year, however, he said the hospital and its board plans to approach the county about increasing its contribution.

He declined to say what they plan to seek.

"We've got a good idea, but we're not going to talk about it until we know for sure," Courtois said.

The idea of a sales tax has been suggested in meetings with commissioners.

Trego County voters by a 2-to-1 margin last year soundly rejected a 1-percent sales tax request from the hospital.

At the time, it was expected the sales tax could raise as much as $350,000 a year.

Courtois said WaKeeney isn't the only community hospital struggling with Medicare reimbursements. He declined to identify any other hospitals, however.