PCH Seeks Extension of Sales Tax

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Supporters of the extension of the one-cent local sales tax which benefits Piggott Community Hospital are continuing their public education effort assocated with the campaign. Residents of Piggott are scheduled to go to the polls on Tuesday, July 10, and are being asked to extend the tax which was approved by a wide margin on two previous occasions.

“One thing that we want to emphasize to the citizens of Piggott is the fact that this is an extension of the existing sales tax, and not an increase,” PCH administrator James L. Magee explained. “It is not a new tax, it is just an extension of the one local voters approved earlier.”

Twice the voters of Piggott were asked to approve one-cent sales taxes to benefit the continued operation of the hospital, which has suffered through the same cash flow issues as all other rural hospitals in America. Both times the sales tax measure passed by a wide margin, most recently with some 88 percent support.

The major issues for PCH, and other facilities of the same size and demographic, are varied but many administrators point to the emergency room as key when it comes to the matter of bad debt.

“Our emergency room recorded 4,923 visits in 2017, and that's where about 73-percent of the hospital's bad debt originates,” Magee offered. “Federal law requires that we see all patients, we cannot refuse service.”

The bad debt through the local ER accounts for about $1.5 million per year, and for 2017 the local facility has budgeting for a deficit of $1,689,614.

“Essentially, we're starting every year about $1.6 million in debt,” Magee explained. “Once we cover that we can start to try to show a profit.”

Although it is a source of bad debt for the local facility, the ER at Piggott Community Hospital is also a key part of the services offered to the community. Each year the local emergency room has been credited with saving, and extending, countless lives by offering state-of-the-art care within moments.

PCH also provides outpatient visits, and operates a specialty clinic in Piggott and medical clinics in both Rector and Campbell. These efforts also help the hospital establish a better base, and provides patients with doctor visits and treatment much closer to home.

“The hospital recorded 21,304 outpatient visits last year, and we logged 12,179.85 hours of observation status for patients as well,” Magee explained. “The Rector clinic recorded 7,033 visits, the Campbell clinic recorded 6,702 and the number of patients admitted to the hospital in 2017 was 828.”

Doing his part to educate the community about the importance of the hospital and sales tax extension, Magee has visited with a number of local citizens and addressed the Lions Club meeting. The numbers he offers are somewhat staggering, and offer a glimpse at the challenges faced.

“In 2016 the average cost per day to keep Piggott Community Hospital open was $43,621.67—or about $1,817.56 per hour,” he explained. “And, that's just to keep us staffed and the doors open.”

Recognizing the issue several years ago, local citizens approved the one-cent sales tax to benefit the hospital in 2010. Later, it was approved again although both issues contained a sunset clause—the most recent expires in September.

Although the sales tax dollars are important to the continued operation of PCH, Magee notes it doesn't go far. “The average sales tax check last year was around $30,000 a month. Those supplementary funds pay for about 16.5 operating hours per month.”

Piggott Community Hospital is one of several in the state which benefits from a sales tax issue, with some of the measures dating back to the late 1970s. In offering a comparison, Magee noted Baptist Health Medical Center, at Stuttgart, benefits from a one-cent countywide tax which generates about $2.2 million per year; CrossRidge Community Hospital gets about $2.1 million from a one-cent countywide tax; Magnolia Regional Medical Center benefits to the tune of $2.6 million a year from a 1.125 percent sales tax and Lawrence Memorial Hospital nets about $1.56 million from a one-cent countywide sales tax first approved in 2014. Statewide, the average amount of tax assistance offered to such facilities is nearly $1.36 million.

In addition to serving as the city's largest employer, and biggest customer of the city-owned utilities, Piggott Community Hospital has developed a reputation as a top-flight operation in the medical industry. New strides in tele-medicine and other efforts have also earned PCH accolades within the health care community.

“I think you would be hard pressed to find another hospital our size anywhere in the country that could offer what we have to offer, and give a physician the ability to practice medicine with a broader scope, than what they could, say in a hospital that is a critical access hospital-but doesn't have the things going on that we have here at ours,” staff member Dr. J.T. Dewitt, DO concluded.

The plight of Piggott Community Hospital is nothing new to much of the country, which has seen countless smaller-rural facilities close their doors at an amazing rate. Most recently, the Twin Rivers Regional Medical Center in Kennett ceased operations as the corporation which owns the facility decided to merge operations with Poplar Bluff. The move has complicated seeking treatment for Kennett area patients, and forced the closure of a very-busy emergency room.

Supporters of the tax issue are hopeful the merger involving TRRMC will serve as a good example of how such a closure can affect a city and the surrounding area.

Piggott native Randy McComb, M.D., summed it up in offering, “83 rural hospitals closed in 2017. It would be economically devestating to our community to lose the number one employer in our county.”

Early voting is set to begin on Monday, July 3, and ballots may be cast at the Clay County clerk's office in the courthouse in Piggott.

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