Fri Jul 1, 2022

Commissioners vote to proceed with plan to get out of home health care business

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Health Director Kim Smith, center, flanked by Home Health Director Teresa Smith and Dr. Randy Kirby, chairman of the board of health, addresses county commissioners Monday.
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The Columbus County Board of Commissioners voted 4-3 Monday night to begin a process to get the county out of the business of providing home health care services through the Columbus County Department of Health.

Commissioners Trent Burroughs, who made the motion, and Ricky Bullard, who seconded it, were joined by Charles McDowell and Chairman Giles E. “Buddy” Byrd in voting for the measure. James Prevatte, Amon McKenzie and Edwin Russ voted no.

The decision Monday came after Health Director Kim Smith gave the board an update showing that the home health agency lost more than $390,000 last year because, Smith said, of declining reimbursements by Medicare and Medicaid programs.

In April, commissioners had authorized the Health Department to fill two positions, a registered nurse and a PR person who would try to develop new business for the home health agency. However, Commissioners Byrd and Burroughs, both of whom sit on the board of trustees of Columbus Regional Healthcare, questioned why the PR person had not approached the hospital for referrals for the home health agency.

Smith said that no new positions were added and that, instead, the department reassigned duties among existing employees. When one of those had to go out on medical leave, the person who had been assigned PR duties had to devote most of her time to nursing duties instead of marketing home health services.

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In response to a question from Byrd, Smith said that the person assigned PR duties had been to the hospital only about five times since April. Byrd responded, “They (the hospital) only want to keep a patient in there three days, so what I thought we were doing was put(ting) someone out there on a daily basis at the hospital recruiting cases. I thought that was the intention of this board.”

“Come on, why are y’all doing this?” McKenzie asked before the vote. “We were going to hire a PR person to try this for a year and now, all of a sudden… I think we ought to go through our year like we said we would.”

Byrd replied, “Amon, I would totally agree with you but we authorized a person to be hired. We didn’t worry about the expense. We said to hire the person and let’s make it happen. And that’s what we were looking to be done, but it hasn’t been done.”

Burroughs’ motion stipulated that the county take the “appropriate legal steps” to divest the county of the agency, which Columbus Regional indicated in April it would be interested in taking over. County Attorney Mike Stephens said those legal steps would involve requesting bids on operating the home health care agency, and Burroughs made that a part of his motion.

See full details in Thursday’s News Reporter.

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