Thursday, February 18, 2010

More Med/School Money Swap

Posted by on Thu, Feb 18, 2010 at 10:03 AM

This week I wrote about a plan to basically swap funding for MCS and the Med.

The city would take on the $30 million in annual funding that the Med needs, while the county would slowly take over the funding the city has been giving to MCS.

As councilman Reid Hedgepeth said at a recent Memphis City Council meeting:

"We've got $38 million we tried to give away two weeks ago. The school board did not accept the money," he said. "We have $38 million we're going to give to someone. We want to get out of the school business."

The city and county have had a long, thorny relationship with funding their joint entities.

Take, for instance, $12 million in emergency funding for the Med.

The county already approved an additional $10 million in Med funding. Shelby County mayor Joe Ford went before the City Council the day they were expected to take up a proposal by councilman Joe Brown to give the Med the remaining $2 million it needs to survive until the next fiscal year.

"It might happen any day that the emergency room is shut down. It could happen any day; it's that critical," Ford told council members. "I've been saying for 8 1/2 weeks that the Med could shut its doors any day."

I am in no way trying to minimize the very serious situation surrounding the Med. It is facing more than $50 million in potential TennCare cuts, and needs an additional $20 million in operating costs. But with the $10 million from the county, Med interim president Claude Watts said they wouldn't need the rest of the funds until March or April.

"Based on what we have, we would not close in the next two weeks," Watts said.

The emergency room could reduce services and see fewer patients, but under the hospital's license, it is not allowed to close the emergency room.

The council was discussing whether to postpone a vote to give the Med $2 million, and some members felt the hospital shouldn't have to wait. (Aren't hospitals synonymous with waiting? They even have rooms just for doing that very thing. But I digress.)

But it kind of seemed like, when it got to council, that it wasn't something that needed immediate attention.

"There is a dire need for $12 million and the County Commission decided to only give 10 of the 12 for a county hospital. It has a board the county appoints, and they've always funded it, and they want the city to pick up the rest of the funding? When they are in a dire need for it," said council member Jim Strickland. "This is a county responsibility."

Ford said he hadn't asked the city for the money; that he was just trying to give them an update on the situation, and a member of the council had proposed funding the gap.

And then Ford said what is generally considered a city refrain: "We're all in this together."

Indeed, but maybe only when it's convenient?

"By appropriating the $2 million," council member Shea Flinn said, "we become again the government of last resort for the surrounding communities. That is not a sustainable position."

I don't really hold much hope for the plan to swap MCS funding with the Med. Overcoming the particular challenges associated with it would be Herculean.

But de-tangling the funding streams would be a good start.

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