Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

December 30, 2013

Sales tax not an uncommon idea

Ezra Mann
Pauls Valley Democrat — Discuss the possible fate of Pauls Valley General Hospital with those in charge of securing its future and one will find that there will be many avenues needed to make it happen.

Still on the table and to be discussed at length in the coming year is the idea of a half-cent sales tax; something that Interim PVGH CEO Jim Clough said is a lot more common practice than one might think.

He noted how in his experience with helping run rural hospitals over the past few decades, the options for rural hospitals eventually includes at least the passage of a tax, if not a change in ownership to a larger entity, with no shortage of success stories.

“I think where we’re at, there’s no one standing in line wanting to buy it,” said Clough. “Whether the city wants it or not, it’s in their lap and we’ve got to get it turned around.”

Clough’s first exposure to the concept was when he worked in Henryetta, a similar sized town to Pauls Valley along I-40, for a division of the Hyatt Hotel when he helped build and open a new hospital there for that city’s hospital trust authority. During seven years there back in the 1980s the sales tax was instrumental in making that facility a reality and it continues to benefit as a result.

“If I remember right, they were the first hospital in the state of Oklahoma that passed a sales tax to support a hospital,” said Clough. “The economic and financial pressures on us will intensify and rural communities will have to work harder to maintain these services.”

Clough has also seen how a hospital can be saved from the brink due to the help of a sales tax; citing five years he spent in Cleveland Oklahoma, where he believes that facility would have closed without it. He noted how the city in that case took control of the hospital from a private entity and after they used the sales tax to help construct medical offices to attract physicians, there was a boost of about 200 patients per month.

Along with the help of New Light Health care acting as manager of the hospital, Clough believes a tax for the local hospital can generate a lot of tax revenue to help fund the turnaround. Some of the areas he sees most benefiting here includes upgrading equipment in the imagine department like the CT scanners, reincorporating ultrasounds and adding an MRI machine.

Clough believes these items are crucial basics since the demand already exists in this area. It could then result in revenue to make up for operating losses instead of doctors here having to refer patients to other hospitals and that money being lost.

In the end, Clough said it is also entirely possible that the hospital may not even need someone like St Anthony or Mercy in order to survive long term. He believes building up to making the sales tax possible will start with the small successes that give people a reason to approve it once it goes back on the ballot.

“We’ll just take it a piece at a time; we’ll keep drilling down until we’ve got a good understanding where we are… Then we can come back and recommend some changes here, some improvements there,” said Clough. “I’m pretty confident there is enough population to support a hospital here.”