Originally created 12/15/00

Commissioners struggle with funding



The money to pay University Hospital for indigent care is on the table as Augusta commissioners seek to balance next year's budget, and one commissioner said it probably would not be snatched away.

But, Commissioner Lee Beard said, city officials are still looking for a solution for Rural/Metro Ambulance, which is seeking $625,000 a year to continue serving past June 30, when its current contract ends.

Mr. Beard, the commission's liaison to University's board, spoke Thursday to board members during their meeting. The commission is looking at a number of different ways of balancing a tight budget, but Mr. Beard said he hoped that would not include the $1 million allotted for the certified poor and uninsured at University. That amount is actually a decrease from the $1.25 million University received for the program this year, which is still millions short of what the program costs University.

"I don't think there's a majority of the commissioners in favor of reducing this $1 million for University for indigent care," Mr. Beard said. Another reason is Augusta may switch to a new model of indigent health care delivery next year, said Commissioner Steve Shepard, one of those who has been studying different models of care.

"We realize that we need something in that category in case we go to some new model of indigent care," Mr. Shepard said. "We're going to need some flexibility there."

University would accept that amount to continue the service, said J. Larry Read, chief executive officer of University Health Care System.

"We can make that work," Mr. Read said. "We'll have to adjust a few things."

Through Nov. 26, University had a $13.5 million surplus, which is almost exactly on budget.

Back in October, Rural/Metro sent a letter to then-Administrator Randy Oliver asking for $625,000 a year to continue to provide emergency ambulance service in Augusta. Rural/Metro had signed a five-year contract back in 1996 that gradually phased out its $600,000 annual subsidy, so it receives none this year.

The ambulance service is currently losing money on the emergency service, and "however they do the system, it is going to require some funding," said Douglas Hooten, division general manager for Rural/Metro. The issue may come up at a Saturday budget work session, Mr. Beard said.

"That's going to be a priority that we're going to have to discuss," Mr. Beard said. "We're really going to have to make some decisions on if we're going to continue to subsidize them or just what we're going to do."

The Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department has begun cross-training some firefighters as emergency medical technicians, and that may be something else that is explored, Mr. Beard said.

The budget initially had $312,000 in it, the pro-rated portion of the subsidy for Rural/Metro. That money would give commissioners some breathing room to explore other options without worrying about losing service after the June deadline, Mr. Shepard said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213.