Town Hall Meeting: Hospital sales tax

by Charles Gerian

The City of Blackwell held a Town Hall meeting last night at the Blackwell Event Center where Mayor T.J. Greenfield, City Manager Janet Smith, and Ward 4 Councilman Steve Marquardt answered questions and concerns about the April 2 election, wherein Blackwell citizens will vote on keeping the Healthcare Tax Extension for the remodel of Blackwell Regional Hospital (BRH) and also vote on raising the Hotel/Motel Tax from 6% to 8% for travelers stopping at Blackwell hotels.

The BRH tax is not a new tax but an extension of the one Blackwell residents are currently paying for, the funds will be going specifically to the new facility.

“Should the tax fail to pass, the future of our hospital is uncertain,” Mayor Greenfield told the audience at the Event Center.

The project would demolish and remodel a majority of the BRH site to modernize it for close to $13 million dollars. The new facility would include an E.R. And physician clinic along with an inpatient and outpatient facility with 5-10 beds (the exact amount is not finalized).

Steven Taylor, Chief Executive Officer for BRH, confirmed that the clinic facilities would be offered first to physicians operated within the hospital. An audience question was then asked about what would happen to the old physicians facility on the BRH grounds. And why “other doctors in town” weren't moving into the space.

“That building is in worse shape than our hospital is,” Taylor had answered, “I wouldn't want physicians in there, I would want them in the new space.”

Taylor was then asked if the old facility would be demoed to which he and Mayor Greenfield answered that a demolition hadn't been planned at the time.

“We want to look into it a bit more,” Greenfield said.

Currently, BRH employs 97 people with an annual payroll of over $3 million dollars.

“These employees create 57 additional jobs which, in turn, creates $1.5 million in income for the local economy as these employees and the facility interact [with Blackwell],” Mayor Greenfield read as he covered the information sheet.

BRH provided more than $280 thousand dollars in financial assistance in 2018 and in that same year alone provided care to over 450 patients in the hospital proper with over 6 thousand in the E.R. Close to 10 thousand radiology tests were held and there were over 45 thousand lab tests.

“The site, built in 1953, is in need of replaced systems for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing along with much needed ADA improvements. The windows, roofing, and brickwork all need maintained and the existing elevators need to be replaced,” Greenfield continued to read from the information sheet.

Greg Sixkiller confirmed the site's mechanical issues.

Blackwell citizen Russ Bartlett then spoke with a question directed at Greenfield.

“I've seen [the Event Center] put up. I did not see the high school put up, but I know we had a million or two million dollar overrun on this building and the Mayor said at one of the last Council meetings 'we have to accept the lowest bid'. Well, there's doors that don't work here, the air condition doesn't work here half the time...the high school last year tried to pass a bond because the roof leaked, the air condition didn't work, the plumbing didn't work...what guarantee do we have that [the BRH project] is not going to be flawed with these problems, since we have to accept the lowest bid?”

“Well, we do have to accept the lowest bid,” Mayor Greenfield replied, “that is a state requirement.”

“If we don't accept the lowest, maybe if we accept the second lowest we have to specify why. That could be in terms of a letter of recommendation or a track record that doesn't measure up with what we want to do, say if one company had never built a hospital before, that could be one reason,” Greenfield continued.

“Our doors do work here,” he added in regards to the Event Center, “...there are a few minor things that could be addressed. As far as the schools go, those I can't really speak to, those are [Blackwell Public School] items. I have no say on that. I don't know if there's anyone from the school board here that would want to say anything.”

Greenfield then praised BRH parent company Stillwater Medical's work with the contractors they have been dealing with through their extensive remodel

“You can pre-qualify people,” Steven Taylor as Regional President/System VP of Stillwater Medical,

“You can require them to have so many years of hospital construction experience. There's steps you can take, even as the lowest bid, to ensure you get a contractor that knows that they're doing.”

“It's also lowest and best,” City Manager Janet Smith said, “we can qualify best by requiring certain things mentioned before like letters of recommendation, how many hospitals done within the last seven years […] that's also why you need to get an engineering firm that you can trust with a good record, they're going to represent our interests every day on that job […] we have to do our due diligence and work with companies that can provide the very best.”

“The City of Blackwell wants to make sure that they do it right and I do as well,” Taylor said.

A question was then asked on what guarantee Blackwell residents would have that Stillwater Medical wouldn't back out of their relationship with BRH in the same way that AllianceHealth had in the past.

CEO Taylor responded saying that Stillwater Medical wouldn't get into the remodel and construction without seeing a future that could work with Blackwell.

“I may be hit by a bus in 6 months,” Taylor joked, “there's no guarantee of anything. We do, however, feel confident we make this work long-term.

Mayor Greenfield noted that Stillwater Medical and Blackwell Regional operated under their respective cities and were not strictly a “For Profit operation”.

Dr. Melinda Allen from BRH's Physician Clinic then approached the mic and spoke.

“I was here for 5 years with Integris. When they pulled out and brought in an outside company to run the hospital I chose not to stay with Alliance and I'm glad that I didn't stay with them. Community Health System- who owns Alliance- their largest investor is a Chinese billionaire who owns 24.5% of the this keeps our healthcare dollars within our community,” she said.

“Right now profits from Ponca City are sent back to China. I don't know about you but I don't want a Chinese billionaire involved in my healthcare, or my mother's, or my family's […] I worked with Integris, I'm aware of CHS, and I think Stillwater has made the biggest commitment- I've experienced- to the Blackwell community,” Dr. Allen finished.

Several members of the audience- including Sixkiller and Marquardt- shared their stories about medical emergencies with the life and death situations that BRH was crucial for.