More trans­parency urged on tax do­na­tion pro­gram

♦ Polk Med­i­cal Cen­ter re­ported re­cent use of funds for se­nior trans­port van up­grade and more

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - By Andy Miller Edi­tor Kevin Myrick contributed to this re­port.

Tens of mil­lions of dol­lars in busi­ness and in­di­vid­ual do­na­tions have gone to Ge­or­gia ru­ral hos­pi­tals this year, thanks to a pop­u­lar state tax credit pro­gram.

But how hos­pi­tals are spend­ing that money this year has not been of­fi­cially tracked, the state says. And right now, there ap­par­ently isn’t pub­licly avail­able in­for­ma­tion on how much in do­na­tions that each el­i­gi­ble hospi­tal has re­ceived so far in 2018.

An in­flu­en­tial state law­maker said last week that the law needs tweak­ing to in­crease trans­parency. “There are things that need to be cleaned up,’’ said Rep. Terry Eng­land (R-Auburn), chair­man of the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee.

Last week, in a sur­prise an­nounce­ment, the state Depart­ment of Rev­enue said that the pro­gram would be re­opened for do­na­tions be­cause it hadn’t reached the $60 mil­lion limit in tax cred­its awarded.

The agency did not say how much of the $60 mil­lion in tax cred­its re­mained un­tapped, but a spokesman, Wil­liam Gas­ton, said the depart­ment would know more on the amount closer to the Nov. 15 start of new ap­pli­ca­tions.

Ru­ral hospi­tal do­na­tions have soared this year af­ter the Leg­is­la­ture de­cided to raise the tax credit to 100 per­cent of do­na­tions, up from 90 per­cent. The pro­gram now al­lows a dol­lar-for-dol­lar re­duc­tion on state in­come taxes for those who file as in­di­vid­u­als, cou­ples or cor­po­ra­tions in the state.

Polk Med­i­cal Cen­ter is among the hos­pi­tals that is tak­ing part in the pro­gram, and re­ceived around $500,000 in do­na­tions thus far since its in­cep­tion sev­eral years ago.

They join some hos­pi­tals who are re­port­ing how they use the money pub­li­cally.

Floyd Health­care Vice Pres­i­dent Matt Gor­man told Cedar­town-Polk County Hospi­tal Au­thor­ity mem­bers dur­ing their Oc­to­ber meeting that some of that money has al­ready been put to good use. They used some of the do­nated funds, along with the Polk Med­i­cal Cen­ter’s Spirit Com­mit­tee and some hospi­tal gen­eral funds to pur­chase a new van to use for trans­port­ing se­niors as part of their en­rich­ment pro­gram to and from meet­ings and events spon­sored by the hospi­tal.

“As part of that pro­gram, we have an outreach where we have a van to go pick up those peo­ple,” he said. “That van outreach is re­ally im­por­tant to the par­tic­i­pants in that pro­gram.”

He said the old van the hospi­tal was us­ing to trans­port se­niors was well past its prime, and was con­stantly be­ing re­paired.

“Both of those or­ga­ni­za­tions came to­gether to give us money to help us re­place the van,” he said. “It’s been fan­tas­tic. The air and heat works, and we don’t have to take it to the shop all the time.”

Gor­man said the van was pur­chased with “al­most no op­er­a­tional cost to the hospi­tal.”

The Polk Health­care Foun­da­tion is also us­ing some of the funds to help pro­vide lo­cally grown pro­duce to peo­ple in need via the an­nual Youth Sum­mer­fest, and reg­u­larly through Com­mu­nity Share Min­istries and Pied­mont Av­enue Bap­tist Church.

Oth­ers are talk­ing about how they’ve used the money as well.

Phoebe Worth in Sylvester said re­cently that it re­ceived do­na­tions to­tal­ing $2.5 mil­lion through Ge­or­gia HEART, a con­sult­ing firm em­ployed by many ru­ral hos­pi­tals to fa­cil­i­tate do­na­tions.

“It will al­low us to pay for on­go­ing ren­o­va­tions to our fa­cil­ity, to buy new equip­ment and to re­cruit and re­tain wellqual­i­fied physi­cians and other clin­i­cians who will pro­vide qual­ity care to pa­tients right here in Worth County,” said CEO Kim Gil­man, ac­cord­ing to the Al­bany Her­ald

Mean­while, donors gave $901,000 to Phoebe Sumter, which said it ex­pected to use its do­na­tions for up­grad­ing equip­ment for clin­i­cal ser­vices, ex­pand­ing clin­i­cal ser­vice of­fer­ings and com­mu­nity health ini­tia­tives, hir­ing new physi­cians and off­set­ting the cost of un­com­pen­sated care.

A life­line for strug­gling sys­tems

The tax credit pro­gram was cre­ated to ad­dress the lin­ger­ing ru­ral health cri­sis in Ge­or­gia.

Seven ru­ral hos­pi­tals in the state have closed their doors since the be­gin­ning of 2013. Two of those have been re­opened as mod­i­fied med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties, but no longer func­tion as full-fledged hos­pi­tals.

More than half of the state’s re­main­ing ru­ral hos­pi­tals are vul­ner­a­ble to clo­sure, ac­cord­ing to a 2016 re­port on ru­ral hospi­tal strength by iVan­tage Health An­a­lyt­ics for the Na­tional Ru­ral Health As­so­ci­a­tion.

Last year’s to­tal state do­na­tions un­der the pro­gram – at the 90 per­cent level – was just $10 mil­lion, out of a pos­si­ble $60 mil­lion.

This year, the pro­gram has been con­sid­ered such a suc­cess among law­mak­ers and hos­pi­tals that there are pro­pos­als to raise the ceil­ing of tax cred­its from $60 mil­lion to $100 mil­lion.

Some hos­pi­tals have an­nounced their col­lec­tions and spend­ing plans in the me­dia.

“Hos­pi­tals are thrilled to death’’ about the tax credit pro­gram, Eng­land said.

Leg­is­la­tors “are go­ing to put things in place to see how these dol­lars are be­ing spent’’ to in­crease trans­parency, said Eng­land, who’s also co-chair of the House Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment Coun­cil. “We want to be spe­cific on al­low­able spend­ing.”

“This is tax­payer money that would oth­er­wise go into the Gen­eral Fund,’’ Eng­land told GHN. “Ev­ery one of these hos­pi­tals want to do the right thing. I want to iden­tify how the money is spent.”

The state Depart­ment of Com­mu­nity Health noted Tues­day that un­der the law, hos­pi­tals must re­port next year how much do­na­tion money was col­lected in 2018, and about its spend­ing of those dol­lars.

Ethan James of the Ge­or­gia Hospi­tal As­so­ci­a­tion said Tues­day that hos­pi­tals ‘’have been fully com­pli­ant on the trans­parency that’s called for un­der the law.”

But dur­ing the year, progress re­ports on col­lec­tions and spend­ing is needed, said Jimmy Lewis, CEO of Home­Town Health, an as­so­ci­a­tion of ru­ral hos­pi­tals in the state.

“We have an ex­cel­lent tax credit pro­gram, and hos­pi­tals are very ex­cited about it,’’ said Jimmy Lewis, CEO of Home­Town Health, an as­so­ci­a­tion of ru­ral hos­pi­tals in the state. “We have trans­parency prob­lems. The Leg­is­la­ture will have to make changes on the re­port­ing and ac­count­abil­ity.”

The Depart­ment of Rev­enue told GHN that the names of donors — in­di­vid­ual or busi­ness — and the amounts they gave is con­fi­den­tial in­for­ma­tion.

No sin­gle hospi­tal can re­ceive more than $4 mil­lion in do­na­tions each year.

“Although I am not hold­ing my breath, we did have over $1 mil­lion in po­ten­tial do­na­tions get de­clined that I would love to get a sec­ond chance at col­lect­ing,” said Daniel Graves, who chairs the board at El­bert Memo­rial Hospi­tal in north­east Ge­or­gia, which raised $1 mil­lion through the pro­gram, the Val­dosta Daily Times re­ported.

“I’m con­fi­dent that our donors will fol­low through if given the chance, and I’ll take as many bites at the ap­ple as the state will give the tax­pay­ers,” Graves said.

The gu­ber­na­to­rial candidates dif­fer on the tax credit pro­gram.

Sec­re­tary of State Brian Kemp, a Repub­li­can, wants to ex­pand the pro­gram and de­vote more state dol­lars to it. Demo­crat Stacey Abrams, a for­mer House mi­nor­ity leader, sup­ports Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion in­stead, say­ing she be­lieves it would give more mean­ing­ful aid to ru­ral hos­pi­tals, the Daily Times re­ported.

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