Tax vote failure means Cedar County hospital's future in doubt

Published: Aug. 7, 2019 at 6:58 PM CDT
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Built in 1960, El Dorado Springs' Cedar County Memorial Hospital has never had a tax levy increase since its opening year when the minimum wage was $1.15.

As a publically-owned non-profit the 25 bed critical access facility with 125 employees and its own emergency room is like many rural hospitals where costs are outpacing revenues with a deficit of $1.5 million dollars this past year.

So when a proposed levy that would have raised property taxes on the average home by 22-cents per day failed for the second time in five months on Tuesday night, the long term future of the second largest employer in the county is now in doubt.

"There have been several hundred critical access hospitals that have closed in the United States in the last three or four years," explained Dr. Sean Smith, the hospital's Emergency Room Physician. "Small towns may only have one choice within an hour's drive."

"There are many people who say they wouldn't even be here today if this hospital hadn't been here," added Cedar Co. Hospital CEO Jana Witt.

People like Jackson Tough, the Chamber of Commerce CEO who not only appreciates the hospital for its economic impact but for the close proximity emergency room he was taken to after being in a severe car accident.

"If this hospital hadn't been here when I had my wreck I can reasonably say I would not be here," he said. "It's very important that we keep this hospital."

Andy Graves also doesn't take the hospital for granted as it was a godsend in his emergency after he experienced liver and kidney failure and ended up with a liver transplant.

"If I would have had to go any further than here from the 10 minute drive from home I don't think I would have made it," Graves said. "There are some people that take it for granted but we need it."

Dr. Tracy Barger, an assistant elementary school principal, found solace and support from her hometown hospital even after losing her son Tanner in a car accident.

"When you have that small town feel and they know you they're going to go above and beyond," she said. "The level of compassion they showed us that night I don't think we would have gotten anywhere else."

That's why the five-member board of area residents who oversee the hospital says they'll be doing all they can to keep it afloat.

"I would say we're not in imminent danger of closing," said Carla Griffin, the board's vice-president. "What comes over the next few years we need to turn things around one way or another."

"We've already looked at our staffing and done some cutbacks where we could," Witt added.

With more budget tightening ahead, one thing the board can predict for the future is the same thing they've been dealing with leading up to the election night failure.

"Some sleepless nights," said board president Julia Phillips with a laugh.

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