FOLKSTON, Ga. -- The Charlton County Commission voted not to assist the ailing Charlton Memorial Hospital in the spring, which threatens its existence. Now, citizens are petitioning the commission to reconsider and help the community keep the hospital.
Folkston realtor Lawanda Jones said she has gathered more than 1,100 signatures on a petition of citizens willing to pay more taxes to keep Charlton Memorial Hospital open. Jones said the hospital is vital to the community.
"Number one, once it closes, it will never open again," said Jones. "And those are good jobs for our community. We have a lot of poor people in this community and it is going to be difficult to go out of town. It is a quality of life we have always had. We feel like it is what we need as a community."
Jones said with trains running through the town often, a hospital is needed in case of an accident. She supports the county partnering with the hospital authority and issuing bonds backed by taxpayer dollars to pay off old debt and give the hospital a fresh start. Hospital CEO H.D. Cannington says a bond issue of $5 million should be sufficient.
"Our hands are tied because we don't have any money to make money," said Cannington. "I believe this hospital can be successful, absolutely, absolutely."
Hospital officials say getting rid of the old debt would allow them to make improvements and buy new equipment that would lead to more revenue for the hospital and most likely be able to pay off the bonds without taxpayer money. The hospital could use new X-ray equipment and an anesthesia machine that costs $80,000.
Jones said if the hospital could make improvements, then many of the federal prisoners in Charlton County could come to the hospital there for many of the surgical procedures they go to Camden County for.
But county officials point out the hospital continues to lose money, pointing out a debt of $1 million dollars in 2000, to more than $5.8 million in debt in 2013.
They also point out that they operate the ambulance service in the county, taking that operation from the hospital a while back. They say 62 percent of the patients they pick up go to out-of-county hospitals at their request.
County commissioner John Meyer said the county cannot afford to bail out the hospital anymore on the backs of taxpayers.
"Absolutely not. We have people that have a hard time paying their taxes as it is, we have people that are on subsistence, how in the world can they take on more taxes?"
Citizens United to keep Charlton Memorial Hospital open will present their petitions to the county commission in a meeting Thursday afternoon and present their case for keeping the hospital open. Jones hopes the commission will decide to sit down with the Hospital Authority and discuss the situation and work something out.
First Coast News