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STATE GRANTS HOSPITAL A $1 MILLION `INFUSION’

SHARE STATE GRANTS HOSPITAL A $1 MILLION `INFUSION’

"If at first you don't succeed . . ."

The adage seems to have finally worked work for the Allen Memorial Hospital in Moab, which finally got a much-needed $1 million cash infusion, thanks to the state.The $1 million bailout comes after residents of Grand County in 1993 rejected a property tax increase that would have provided crucial funding to the only hospital in the entire Moab region. In 1994, those same residents rejected a 0.125 percent sales tax increase for the same purpose.

Faced with the prospect of closing their doors, Grand County officials turned to the one funding option that did not require voter approval: they pleaded with the state.

In a unanimous vote, the Community Impact Board has agreed to give the Moab hospital almost $1 million for a new CT scanner and renovations that will help the facility meet health and safety codes.

"The board was faced with the question of do we let the hospital go belly-up and let the entire area go without health care," said Keith Burnett, program manager for the CIB. "Or do we put more money in and help them become financially solvent."

The board, which distributes millions of dollars annually in mineral lease revenues to fund water, sewer and road projects in rural Utah, opted for the latter. But not without some reservation.

"The board does not want to be put in the position of being the financial source of last resort for rural hospitals," Burnett said. "We can't be the financial last resort for county landfills or courthouses or city recreation facilities. The local residents have to do their share."

The $992,500 grant to Allen Memorial Hospital is a departure, of sorts, for the CIB, which has in recent years adopted a policy of loaning money for local projects but with the contingency that local residents pay back the low-interest loans.

In the Allen Memorial case, however, it was painfully obvious to the board that Moab residents were not going to accept financial responsibility for the hospital and that thousands of southeastern Utah residents could be left without adequate medical care.

If the Moab hospital were to close, the closest hospitals would be ones in Grand Junction, Colo., and in Price - both about two hours away.

The infusion of cash was needed, hospital officials said, to purchase certain equipment and to bring the hospital up to safety standards set by the Department of Health. Currently, the hospital is out of compliance with its electrical and me-chan-i-cal systems.

The hospital is not handicapped-accessible as required by federal law, and its corridors do not meet fire-safety standards.

The hospital had requested $1.3 million from the CIB, but the board scaled back the request to slightly less than $1 million. The board is hoping the investment will make the hospital financially solvent. And, the board hopes, a financially solvent hospital should be able to pay back CIB loans made in previous years.

"The board is aware of what is going on in Moab, the difficulties the district is going through, and they have been working with them for a long time," Burnett said. "They agreed to make financing available to them with the recognition it is hard to keep your client base open and cash flow up if don't have an adequate facility."

"As to what we do in future years, the board will take a long hard look. It will take some kind of change in the financial status of the hospital, increased revenues or tax subsidies either through a sales tax levy or a property tax levy or improved fee structures. Whatever it takes."

Burnett said the board does not expect to see a flurry of funding requests by other rural hospitals, many of which are also in financial trouble. The Moab hospital was an exception.

"Just because the board funded one project, in no way, shape or form does it mean the board will fund other such projects," Burnett said.