JONESBORO — A heavy-hitter in Clayton County announced its endorsement of the proposed 2015 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax this week.
The Clayton County Chamber of Commerce sent Clayton News Daily an open letter to residents Thursday to encourage voters to support the SPLOST, which is expected generate $272 million for projects around the county. The letter has been sent to other media outlets as well.
One of those projects, and a key reason why the chamber is encouraging voters to support the SPLOST, is the inclusion of a $50 million bailout of Southern Regional Medical Center. Hospital officials have repeatedly said they need the funding to cover a financial shortfall.
Southern Regional is struggling because of an unfunded federal mandate that it provide medical care to anyone who comes into its emergency room, regardless of their ability to pay. It’s a situation state officials have said other hospitals in Georgia are also facing.
“The escalating costs of providing care to indigent patients without offsetting funding sources have placed Southern Regional in an untenable long-term position,” chamber President Yulonda Beauford wrote in the organization’s letter to voters.
“About one-third of Georgia counties, including those in the Metro Atlanta market, supplement local healthcare institution budgets to offset the large and unsustainable burden of providing uncompensated care,” she added.
Voters will decide whether the proposed SPLOST passes or fails during the May 20 primary election, although some residents have already cast their ballots during the advance voting period.
Beauford said Clayton County can’t afford to lose its only hospital because it would have a negative impact on the county’s economy and make it difficult to attract new businesses. A survey of economic development experts has determined many large companies “will not even consider” moving to a community which doesn’t have a quality emergency room and trauma and cardiac care, she said.
“In addition to serving the healthcare needs of our citizens, Southern Regional is a strategic economic resource to Clayton County,” Beauford said. “Southern Regional has a significant impact on our local economy, as the availability of medical care is essential to attracting jobs and economic investment.”
Southern Regional CEO Jim Crissey told residents last month that the hospital has agreed to give the Clayton County Board of Commissioners four seats on the hospital’s board of directors.
The board of directors is separate from the Clayton County Hospital Authority Board, to which commissioners already appoint members. The Hospital Authority oversees the land Southern Regional sits on and owns the main hospital building. It has no involvement in the day-to-day management of Southern Regional however.
Crissey announced in March that the hospital has eliminated dozens of positions to help balance its budget.
Clayton County Chamber of Commerce’s Letter to Residents
Here is the full text of Beauford’s letter:
“Clayton County is a community that offers the best of all worlds. We have suburban friendliness, big-city amenities, rural charm and a strategic location, with easy access to the airport, as well as interstates 75, 85, 285 and 675.
“We are home to world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and the state’s 2nd largest convention center, The Georgia International Convention Center, a world-class venue that is directly linked to the airport’s automated people mover.
“Our communities – College Park, Forest Park, Jonesboro, Lake City, Lovejoy, Morrow and Riverdale – each have a unique style and personality, but all are united in making the entire region inviting, prosperous and dynamic for our citizens and businesses.
“We have another very important asset that often goes overlooked, Southern Regional Medical Center, which has served the health and medical needs of residents and visitors of South Metro Atlanta for 43 years. Southern Regional is an important asset to Clayton County and the greater metro Atlanta region.
“In addition to serving the healthcare needs of our citizens, Southern Regional is a strategic economic resource to Clayton County. Southern Regional has a significant impact on our local economy, as the availability of medical care is essential to attracting jobs and economic investment.
“In fact, a recent survey among economic development experts revealed that the availability of adequate local healthcare assets, such as the presence of a top-notch emergency room, as well as trauma and cardiac care, are essential for attracting new businesses. Without these assets, most large companies will not even consider locating within a community.
“For the past seven years, Southern Regional has been struggling financially. The cost of unfunded care is the primary cause of these deficits. The escalating costs of providing care to indigent patients without offsetting funding sources have placed Southern Regional in an untenable long-term position.
“About one-third of Georgia counties, including those in the Metro Atlanta market, supplement local healthcare institution budgets to offset the large and unsustainable burden of providing uncompensated care.
“The Clayton County Board of Commissioners has approved additional annual funding for Southern Regional through the SPLOST continuation to help offset these costs. The hospital has also pledged to reduce its costs through a combination of reduced overhead, programs and services.
“In addition, Clayton County’s SPLOST continuation will fund improvements in public safety, transportation projects and economic development initiatives to promote business, investment and job growth in Clayton County.
“Voters will decide whether to approve the SPLOST during a referendum held as part of the May 20th primary election.
“The Clayton County Chamber of Commerce endorses the passage of the Clayton County SPLOST. We ask that you vote YES for the passage of the SPLOST on May 20th, which will continue to fund needed projects within the County, our seven cities and help save our hospital.”
— Yulonda Beauford