July 24, 2013 Edition

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Tax issue critical
for smaller hospitals

Gretchen Hunt

On Aug. 13, Lawrence County voters will decide whether to extend an existing half-cent sales tax and add another half-cent tax to support the local hospital.

Lawrence Health Services Administrator George Fray said the election is very important, not only for Lawrence Memorial Hospital, but also for the county.

The tax, which would be in place until 2023, would be used to offset the decrease in federal funding being received, as well as to continue to help make up for losses in the hospital's emergency room.

Fray said the hospital loses $700,000 to $800,000 each year, mainly due to uninsured and underinsured patients who cannot pay for the service they receive.

The existing half-cent tax, which is currently set to expire in 2015, was passed to help offset emergency room losses.

In addition, the amount of reimbursement coming to the hospital for Medicare and Medicaid patients continues to decline. In an attempt to balance the federal budget, another two percent reduction was passed, and an additional one percent reduction is expected at the first of the year.

"This tax just makes up for that shortfall," Fray said. "A lot of hospitals have geared up for this. Eleven hospitals in Arkansas have already passed a one-cent sales tax."

An additional challenge has been the declining census at Lawrence Hall Nursing Center. Income from LHNC has helped offset losses at the hospital in the past.

Junior Briner, vice president of support services for LHS, said families have more options now, including the ability to receive funding for keeping their family member at home.

"A lot of times now we get them when their condition has worsened, and their stay is not as long," he said.

If passed, the one-cent tax will be devoted to help fund the operation of the hospital.

"It's important that the community continue to have a hospital," Fray said.

Briner said for that to happen the tax is essential.

"The federal government has said they are no longer going to fund a community hospital," he said. "They want to see the community support it."

Fray said that support has always been there in the past and he hopes that it continues so that the hospital, in turn, can support the community.

Not only does the hospital provide services to residents of Lawrence County, Lawrence Health Services is also the county's largest employer with the largest payroll in the county.

"LHS employs 330 people with a $7 million a year payroll," Briner said. "That turns over seven times in the community."

Early voting for the election will be Aug. 6-12 on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The polls will be open on Aug. 13 from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

"This is a very important election," Fray said. "It's a critical vote for the future of the county."

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