SCKMC Explains Need for Sales Tax
August 22, 2014
It's been five years since the citizens of Arkansas City approved a ten year, one-half cent sales to assist in the construction of the new hospital, outpatient services building, and several new equipment purchases. With those goals accomplished, the SCKMC Board of Trustees is asking the citizens of Arkansas City to vote during the November election for a new ten-year, one-half cent sales tax to be used for physician recruitment, service expansion & development.
Arkansas City, KS - It's been five years since the citizens of Arkansas City approved a ten year, one-half cent sales to assist in the construction of the new hospital, outpatient services building, and several new equipment purchases. With those goals accomplished, the SCKMC Board of Trustees is asking the citizens of Arkansas City to vote during the November election for a new ten-year, one-half cent sales tax to be used for physician recruitment, service expansion & development.
During a recent City Commission work session, SCKMC staff was asked to explain the need for an additional tax. They responded with a view that the need to expand local physician services is critical for the overall health of the community. A recent national health study found that 40% of Americans have encountered one or more barriers preventing them from getting needed healthcare in the past year. These barriers include a lack of physician providers, an inability to be scheduled in a timely manner through health clinics, and expense associated with receiving treatment through a hospital emergency department.
The Arkansas City community faces similar obstacles. The University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute shows Cowley County rates far below the State average with only one primary care physician for every 2,134 patients, compared to the State average of one physician for every 1,380 patients.
Hospital staff is currently working with area physician clinics to actively recruit more doctors into the area. SCKMC has spent $450,000 on non-employed physician recruiting expenses between 2009 and 2013. Funds raised by the sales tax would support the continued recruitment of full-time, local physicians as well as help to cover the initial start-up costs of establishing their practices.
However, growing trends suggest physicians are reluctant to join the traditional physician owned clinic model. According to the American Medical Association roughly 42% of physicians are now employed in some manner versus owning their own practices. This is a figure that has almost doubled over the past decade.
In response to this trend, SCKMC began employing primary care physicians in July and partnered with the former Summit Clinic to form South Central Kansas Clinic. This new clinic allows the hospital to provide a previously unavailable employment model while recruiting physicians.
"We are hopeful of being able to attract additional doctors either to one of our local clinics or to the hospital. We need more doctors with specialties like family practice, internal medicine, or pediatrics; that's probably our single biggest need in terms of growth," said Steve Perkins, SCKMC's Chief Executive Officer.
Hospital administrators state that as a result of the physician shortage more people put off receiving treatment until their condition becomes emergent, or go to Emergency Rooms to receive care for non-emergent conditions. Nationally, the number of ER visits has increased by 23% between 2000 and 2010, and SCKMC averages over 7,000 patient visits to their emergency department annually. These non-emergent visits are regularly not covered by insurance.
"Since 2009 SCKMC has provided over eight- million dollars in uncompensated care locally. Every day we write off more than $44,000 worth of services to Medicare or Medicaid, insurance companies and to those who cannot pay their bills," said Holly Harper, SCKMC's Chief Financial Officer.
An additional use of the sales tax funds would be the development of alternatives to non-emergent ER care, such as an urgent care center. Such a center would likely be open for extended hours and offer a much lower cost alternative to seeking care through the ER.
Hospital leadership is using a variety of avenues to educate the public to the need for and uses of the sales tax. Information is being distributed through traditional media sources, social media, and visits to the area civic organizations and social groups.
"Every effort will be made to inform the public so they may weigh in to decide the issue," said Perkins. "Members of our organization's leadership and governance will be reaching out to the community. Our plans include getting to the coffee groups that gather in different spots around town, getting to the senior center and other venues where the citizens can ask us questions and we can provide the facts."
Perkins noted that SCKMC has a very sound basis for requesting the community's support, but stressed that both past and future successes for the hospital are tied directly to local backing.
"Our investment in the future of the Cowley community is significant. We all realize we would not be here today if not for the support of our community. As we look for ways to continue to grow and thrive, we need that continued effort," Perkins said.