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Trego residents set to raise questions about hospital





WaKEENEY -- Even as Trego County's hospital reported a return to profitability, a newly formed citizens group has called a public meeting for Thursday to talk about issues affecting the hospital as well as the city, county and school.

One of the organizers of the Community Coalition, as it's been called, isn't sure how many people will show up, but she's hoping people will do so and ask questions.

If representatives of the city, county, hospital or county-owned nursing home aren't there to answer the questions themselves, organizer Diane Wagner said she'll take notes and try to get the questions answered.

The meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Western Electric Cooperative meeting room.

Trego County's struggles have caused a rift in the community, as financial problems at Trego County-Lemke Memorial Hospital prompted Trego County commissioners to issue nearly $1.8 million in no-fund warrants.

Voters also approved a 1-percent sales tax, and most of that money will be going to the hospital.

Meeting with commissioners Monday, outgoing CEO Harold Courtois reported on conditions at the hospital.

During that meeting, chief financial officer Dave Augustine told commissioners the hospital has had a net profit of nearly $250,000 through May. Nearly half of the $1.8 million from no-fund warrants remains on the hospital's balance sheet as a reserve.

No-fund warrants, however, are designed to cover unexpected expenses, not bolster reserves or profit margins.

The 1-percent sales tax is expected to bring in an additional $500,000 a year for the county.

During the Monday meeting with commissioners, Courtois -- who soon will be heading to Russell Regional Hospital to serve as its chief executive -- said conditions are improving.

Employees have had their average work weeks restored to 40 hours, an increase from the 39 hours put in place as a cost-cutting move.

Until a new chief executive can be hired, Great Plains Health Alliance, a Phillipsburg-based health care management group, has contracted with Don Bates, Palacios, Texas, as interim CEO, Courtois said.

Bates was the No. 2 choice to head the Fredonia hospital managed by Great Plains, commissioners were told.

"He'll do a fine job in here," Courtois said. "I think he'll be interested in the permanent position."

How Bates connected with WaKeeney is one of the questions Wagner wants answered.

She's also curious about the financial situation facing Trego Manor, a county-owned nursing home that continues to struggle with making ends meet even though the county contributes $50,000 to it annually.

The meeting won't be strictly about the hospital or nursing home, Wagner said, pointing to city and school issues that have been suggested as topics of discussion.

"We're going to throw it all in a pot," she said.

She's hoping representatives from agencies will be on hand to answer some of the questions directly.

If not, she's planning to write down the questions and get answers.

County appraiser John Reeder has agreed to talk about property appraisals and how to determine what effect recent changes will have on property taxes.

"I expect questions," Wagner said of the meeting. "It's an open forum."