Leaders pursue county hospital district
By Dave Rogers
For The Record
Coming to a city council or school board meeting near you:
A hard sales pitch for help in starting a hospital district that would build and operate a new full-service hospital.
Orange is the largest city and Orange County is the largest county in the state without a hospital, County Commissioner Barry Burton said last Friday at a meeting attended by about three dozen business and civic leaders.
“I think having a hospital is one of the most important things for every city and every county,” Gisela Houseman said.
“Because we will die if we don’t — literally and figuratively.”
A growing number of civic leaders say a hospital district, a government entity with the authority to levy taxes, is the fastest way to replace the steadily diminishing services of Orange’s former hospital.
Baptist Hospital-Southeast Texas announced in December its emergency room services will close Thursday. That follows the hospital stopping delivering babies in 2013 and eliminating in-patient services in 2015.
At the meeting, Orange’s city manager, Shawn Oubre recapped an effort begun by the city almost two years ago to study the needs of the city and efforts to lure private investment kept coming back to the need for a hospital district, which would increase the availability of federal funds.
The timetable is short to get a hospital district approved by the current Texas Legislature and the effort requires buy-in from all the cities and school districts in the county.
“Time is of the essence,” Oubre said. “If we don’t get this done in the next 60 to 70 days, we’re going to have to wait another two years.”
Hence the rush to get resolutions in to forward to Orange County’s representatives in the Legislature, State Rep. Dade Phelan and State Sen. Robert Nichols, who have agreed to sponsor a bill establishing the district.
County Judge Stephen Brint Carlton said he and commissioners would take over the work begun by the city of Orange.
Tuesday, county commissioners approved a resolution in favor of creating a hospital district in their regular meeting. The city council of Pinehurst was set to vote on the same resolution Tuesday night.
“It’s our last option,” Carlton said, “especially for expediency.”
If the Legislature is able to approve a district, Oubre said a county-wide election would be held in November. Carlton said the issue could be voted on as soon as May if a petition drive were used.
Because the hospital needs buy-in from the entire county, it needs to be centrally located in the county, Carlton said, and a location near the intersection of Interstate 10 and FM 1442 would be central.
A consultant’s report paid for by many of those at Friday’s meeting showed the county could support a 25-bed hospital, with two operating rooms, an emergency room and full imaging capabilities.
The 2015 estimate for land and structure, Oubre said, was $59 million.
Because there would be a construction time schedule of three to five years for a new hospital, Carlton mentioned the possibility of negotiating with Baptist to use their existing building on a temporary basis.
Jessica Hill, executive director of the county’s Economic Development Corporation, told what she knew of a recently created hospital district for the east side of Liberty County. She said residents of that district were taxed at a 7-cent rate.
Oubre said in an earlier interview that Jasper had a hospital district that collected no taxes.
“As we talk to people about the importance of a hospital district, we also need to talk to them about using it,” Carlton said. “We need to support it.”
He said people in Bridge City now travel across the Rainbow Bridge to go to the hospital in Port Arthur while people in Vidor cross the Neches River to go to Beaumont hospitals.
“It needs to be on major roads,” Carlton said, “so it’ll draw people from every corner of the county.”