Common ground

Published 8:10 pm Friday, July 30, 2010

What do two businessmen, two doctors, a former educator, a school nurse and a city mayor all have in common?

Anywhere but Troy, probably not much. But here, they all own a hospital.

The businessmen — Sherrill Crowe and Driscoll Colquett; doctors — Chuck Wood and Wilton McRae; former educator — Doug Patterson; school nurse — Brenda Debose; and Mayor Jimmy Lunsford — are those that make up the city of Troy’s hospital Health Care Authority, the group that took ownership of Troy Regional Medical Center in the start of the year.

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And it’s a group that’s been working, with city funding, to keep the hospital in operation for the last seven months.

But, aside from who they are specifically, Troy residents may wonder many things about the authority and its role: Why them? What do they do? And perhaps the most pressing question, doesn’t the city own the hospital?

The authority

The Health Care Authority’s members were appointed by the Troy City Council starting in January 2010 to be the entity that governs operations of Troy Regional Medical Center.

The group started with three, Chairman Crowe, Vice Chairman Colquett and Secretary Debose. Appointed by the Troy City Council, the group’s members were put in place to head the hospital’s operations as the city of Troy took ownership from Troy Doctors Hospital LLC.

“The Health Care Authority is a mechanism the state allows a public entity to set up to own and operate medical facilities,” Lunsford said. “And we chose to use that route.”

While the authority’s members aren’t responsible for funding TRMC, Lunsford said using the Health Care Authority is a way to keep bookkeeping simpler for the city’s overall budget.

The authority’s seven members are not paid.

The authority begun with those three, and since Lunsford said it has been increased in increments of two members.

Following were Lunsford, appointed by the authority, and Patterson, by the city council. Then, he said Wood and McRae were appointed as members of the medical community.

As hospital owners, the authority charges the executive hospital staff to run day-to-day operations. What it oversees involves governance of funds and expansion of services but not daily decisions, like personnel hiring.

“The main thing the Health Care Authority does is monitor and govern, audit and set policy for the hospital,” Crowe said. “The CEO answers to the Health Care Authority, along with her management team, and she acts as a representative to achieve the short term goals and long term missions for us.”

Crowe was no stranger to working with Troy Regional Medical Center when he begun his role as chairman.

Prior to the Troy Doctor’s Hospital LLC, more commonly known as the doctor’s group, taking ownership, Crowe had served as chairman of TRMC for more than 20 years. Some of the time, the city had owned the facility and other times it had been owned by private entities.

And while Crowe said he got “sidetracked” in the real estate business, he had grown up working in hospitals most of his life. He worked through college at a clinical laboratory blood band and studied artificial limbs and bracing at the University of California Los Angeles Medical School.

Colquett, vice chairman, is new to the hospital business. But, long-time chief financial officer of Sanders Truck Lines, he’s no stranger to business.

“The board, I think, is a good board made up of diversified folks,” Colquett said. “I’m learning a lot and hopefully contributing some.”

Debose, who Lunsford said is a school nurse, could not be reached for comment.

Patterson spent 15 years on the Troy City Board of Education and retired from Troy University in 2008.

“I had done a great deal of budget work for Troy University, and I hope I can bring something to the board,” Patterson said. This is also Patterson’s first time to serve on a hospital board.

From his work in the medical field to his former ownership with the doctor’s group, Wood came to the board with his share of experience.

Local physician Wood moved to Troy in April 2008 to open a practice and to be a part of ownership in TRMC with the doctor’s group. He had graduated from Troy University in his undergraduate studies, and prior to his move to Troy he worked in Ozark for six years.

“Here you had the opportunity to be able to give your opinion of health care and patient care. In a lot of hospitals, the physicians don’t have a lot of voice,” Wood said.

After his first year in Troy, Wood assumed the role of Chairman of the Board of Directors for the hospital. So, it was seemingly only natural he be asked to join the board again.

McRae, also a former TRMC doctor owner, was on vacation this week and could not be reached for comment.

Lunsford, appointed by the authority, has clearly had experience in hospital business. Prior to 1994, Lunsford had experience with the city owning the hospital. He also served on the hospital boards at times since then.

Their take

Whether serving TRMC is something board members are doing for the first time or something they have done for years, each has taken a stake in the city’s facility.

“It was a big job,” Colquett said. “It happened so fast, so we had to do what we did in order to keep the doors from closing.”

The hospital, in fact, was quite close to closure before the city stepped in.

“Troy was hemorrhaging badly for money,” Crowe said.

But, Crowe never doubted the facility’s ability to overcome its financial struggles, something it appears to be doing.

“We’ve made money at the hospital for three consecutive months, and a lot of equipment has been purchased,” Crowe said. “If you look at the bottom line of most hospitals, they are struggling to be in the black. But we hope we will continue on this space and show a good margin of profit.”

From new equipment like the digital mammography machines to MRI’s to 4-D ultrasounds, TRMC has made progressive steps since the city has taken over.

“We are making good progress, but it’s not an easy process, and the process is probably longer than people would imagine it to be because it’s a very complex operation,” Patterson said.

After going from Troy Regional Medical Center losing $4 million per year, hospital officials all agreed the turnaround process isn’t a simple one.

“I think the doctors did the best they could, not having the experience needed in knowing what it took to run a hospital,” Wood said. “I think it can only go up. Before the doctors bought it, the hospital was probably as low as it could go. I think the two years the physicians had it, it did improve and since the hospital’s authority has taken over it’s improved more.”

Teresa Grimes, hospital CEO, who came to Troy right before the city took over, said she, too, has seen improvements.

“Of course, there’s been growth and new services,” Grimes said. “I sense there has been this community perception and support, and employee morale is better.”

The future

TRMC has broken even financially the last few months, the first time its books have been in the black since 2007.

But, Lunsford said that has been with the help of a one-cent sales tax funneled to the hospital since March.

Since the sales tax has collected profits, the city’s residents have paid a total of $838,879 to the facility. Lunsford said he doesn’t anticipate that being the case forever.

“As the mayor, I expect the sales tax to no longer be directed to the hospital upon the proceeds of the trust fund,” Lunsford said.

The trust fund, totaled at $16 million, was set aside in 1994 when the city of Troy sold the hospital.

“The city made a decision to not spend all the money we received from the sale of the hospital, but to set it aside in case it was necessary we ever go back in the hospital business,” Lunsford said. “As it turns out, we’re back in the hospital business.”

The trust fund can only be tapped into with a majority vote of Troy’s residents. Lunsford said he will recommend the fund be used to allow the Health Care Authority to pay off its debt.