• 52°

Indigent care claims on the rise

Chilton Medical Center has seen a dramatic increase in the number of indigent care patients in recent years.

The cost for providing this care has risen from $181,000 in Fiscal Year 2008 to $201,000 in Fiscal Year ‘09, hospital CEO Larry Jeter said. Currently, this figure is on pace to reach more than $263,000.

The County Commission currently pays the hospital up to $10,000 per month for true indigent care, but the net cost for CMC has increased from around $61,000 to more than $140,000, Jeter told the commission Monday.

“The hospital is a tremendous asset to this county,” Jeter said. “We are in desperate need of positive support from the county.”

Indigent patients are those who cannot pay for medical services, have gone through the formal process of filling out an application, and have been pre-approved. The food stamp office determines the eligibility of patients.

But as demand increases, the hospital’s facility is becoming inadequate to handle the community’s needs. Jeter said 13,000 patients visited the CMC emergency room in Fiscal Year ‘09, an increase of about 1,000 from the previous year. But the hospital does not generate enough income in other areas to offset costs in the ER, he said.

Also, the cost of indigent care does not include bad debts the hospital experiences, which exceeded $3.7 million as of June 30, 2009.

“The hospital has struggled for years,” Hospital Board member Wayne McKinnon told commissioners. “I know the county’s struggling too.”

In the midst of the economic recession, CMS is trying to develop plans to raise funds for an ER expansion project. The cost for the project would come to about $1 million, Jeter estimated.

He said he was appreciative of the commission’s time Monday.

“Anything is helpful,” he said.

The commission plans to discuss the issue at its upcoming work session.