Grady Memorial Hospital CEO Warren Spellman had a plan.
After two or three years of positive revenue, his hospital would borrow about $10 million in private financing to leverage a federal loan and construct an entirely new hospital for the citizens of Chickasha and surrounding areas.
But in August, Oklahoma State Department of Health regulators — with federal authority — conducted an unannounced “Life Safety Code survey” that deemed multiple deficiencies as grounds for terminating the hospital’s Medicare contract. In effect, the ruling forced Spellman to close the hospital’s surgery center.
“I have no choice now,” Spellman said Wednesday by phone. “There’s no way that I have the money to build a new surgery department, and I can’t borrow it because, without surgery, we’re in the red. We need the community to help us because no one else will. Without surgery, we’re wounded. We’re crippled.”
Spellman and the Grady Memorial Hospital Authority are seeking a shot of epinephrine in the form of a 20-year one-quarter-of-a-penny sales tax that will be voted on by Grady County residents Tuesday, Feb. 9.
Tonight, a public forum to discuss the proposal will be held at 6:30 in the Davis Hall Amphitheater at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma.
“We know this community will benefit if they pass this relatively modest sales tax. We’re only asking for $0.25 on every $100 spent. We did it for 20 years because we wanted to be as minimal-impact on the taxpayer as possible,” Spellman said. “While we’re not perfect, I think we’re deserving of their support, and I think we’ll get it.”
If the proposal doesn’t pass, the hospital will be in even bigger trouble, according to former Rush Springs state Rep. Joe Dorman.
“Chickasha residents would have to travel 40 miles north or south for quality service if this hospital shuts down,” said Dorman, who was appointed to the Rush Springs City Council on Monday. “It would be devastating not only for patients, but also for the recruitment of businesses. No serious business is going to come to a town without health care.”
Spellman said the hospital is currently losing money without the use of its surgery center, which was shut down for a host of violations, ranging from doors, fire-safety plans and ceiling issues to an inability to remove humidity from the central sterilization area.
“I knew we had a construction project in the future. A 60-year-old building needs work,” Spellman said. “Rural hospitals like mine, the hardest thing we can do is figure out how to raise capital.”
But while Spellman had a plan to raise capital for the construction of a new hospital on a slower timeline, the regulatory closing of the surgery center has forced the issue.
“We have limited options,” said Dorman, who supports the proposal.
Whether the hospital authority’s proposal will pass remains to be seen, as the $0.0025 sales tax has drawn some criticism and questions from community members.
On the Facebook page titled Friends of Grady Memorial Hospital, a man named Jesse Pruitt posted a 10-point list of things he says voters are not being told.
Pruitt’s Facebook profile lists his occupation as “maintenance engineer” at Southern Plains Medical Center, a private multi-specialty clinic located right next to Grady Memorial Hospital.
Spellman said tonight’s meeting is intended to clarify the situation and explain why a new surgery center — and radiology area — is necessary, both financially and in relation to patient care.
“We can’t do C-sections, so that means all of our obstetrics went away,” Spellman said. “We were the only hospital in a very large area that did OB. Lindsay and Anadarko don’t, so that’s a big deal.”
Rumors printed, denied
The Chickasha Express-Star reported Jan. 8 that the CEO of Southern Plains Medical Center believes a company called One Cura is interested in buying Grady Memorial Hospital from its public governing authority.
Len Lacefield, the chief executive of SPMC, revealed the plan at the Grady County Tea Party meeting on Thursday. It involves One Cura, an organization that owns hospitals in Anadarko and Stroud, purchasing Grady Memorial.
SPMC leases the operating rooms at The Physicians’ Hospital in Anadarko, which is owned by One Cura. Lacefield said his work with the managing company there made him aware of the proposition.
“I don’t know much about Grady’s function, but I do know it failed,” Lacefield said. “I don’t know why it failed, and I don’t care to know. But I do care that Grady has to get back open. I just don’t believe it should be at the cost of the taxpayers.”
The following Monday, Spellman told the Express-Star that One Cura had not made an official proposal, and he provided the newspaper with a letter from One Cura CEO Charles Eldridge refuting the notion:
“I was informed this morning that a meeting took place last night where One Cura’s interests were purported to be represented by an employee of Southern Plains Medical Clinic. This was done without my instruction, knowledge or consent. Please accept an apology from myself on behalf of One Cura for any misconception and confusion this unauthorized situation may have caused.”
Spellman also told the Express-Star that 11.5 percent of the proposed sales tax’s revenue would fund ambulance services in the county.
“In my many discussions with these community groups, once people hear me out and talk to the doctors and nurses, we seem to have very strong support that this has to occur because we’ve just got to save the hospital,” Spellman said.
Spellman provided NonDoc with the hospital’s prior four years of financial audits, and the Oklahoma State Department of Health provided the Life Safety Code survey results as well. They are embedded below.