WKRG News 5

Clarke Co. hospital struggling while officials wait for federal relief

THOMASVILLE, Ala. (WKRG) — Healthcare in rural south Alabama is everything for small communities like Thomasville.

“We built this facility to provide healthcare close to home, not to have people drive 100 miles to get a mammogram, or a bone density test or an MRI,” said Thomasville Regional Medical Center CEO Curtis James.

Thomasville Regional Medical Center opened its doors in March 2020 with roughly $3 million to $4 million set aside to ramp up operations in its first year. James said just two weeks later, though, COVID-19 hit the healthcare system hard, forcing doctors to cancel elective surgeries and hospitals to change their operations with little warning. Mayor Sheldon Day said it was tough.

“Our biggest moneymaker that we opened our hospital for we had to shut down immediately after opening,” said Day.

“We thought we had enough capital runway to make it to a cash flow positive situation. We went back about 6 months after opening because we got no COVID relief funding, none,” said James.

The hospital struggled through the first few months of the pandemic, forced to refinance in late 2020 in order to prepare for the weeks and months ahead.

“The CARES Act that the federal government passed really relieved hospitals that were in business in 2019. Since we didn’t start until 2020 there was a misconception that we would be taken care of in CARES Act relief money. We got $0 CARES Act relief money and other hospitals in this region got $8 million, $9 million, even $13 million,” said James.

As of March 2022, Thomasville Regional Medical Center staff said they’ve only received $1 million of federal funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or H.H.S., through their Provider Relief Fund. Mayor Day called it a flaw in the federal government’s system and how they calculate losses, even after he said he was promised the hospital would be included in the latest phase four disbursements which would also be based on budgeted numbers.

“We’re one of about three hospitals in the entire nation that has this issue. The issue we think happened is the hierarchy of HHS appointed leadership had not talked to HRSA or they had not good communication between the two and so the formula that they were using to compute these funds was never changed. We’re due what we think is around $7.3 or $7.4 million,” said Day.

Mayor Day took his 6th trip of the year to Washington, D.C. last week to ask the organization in person why those funds still aren’t trickling down. TRMC staff are also concerned about the lack of help and how they move forward.

“We need the $7 million to continue day-to-day operations, shore those financial operations up that have suffered tremendously being the only rural hospital in the country that opened brand new in 2020. The only rural hospital in the country that opened,” said James.

Last week, on March 14, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey awarded $30 million to rural hospitals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Mayor Day said Thomasville will only receive a small portion of that and it doesn’t make up for the lost funding. Day said he is extremely appreciative for any funding, though, and appreciates the state dollars they’ve received so far.

“We just need the formula tweaked in a way that will allow us to get the relief that we’re entitled to,” said Day.

Day tells us Governor Ivey is also following up with the H.H.S. and other elected leaders to determine what can be done to fix the problem. Meanwhile, our calls and emails to H.H.S. have not been answered.