CLINTON, Okla. (KFOR) – The last several months have been a “roller coaster” for the City of Clinton as their only medical facility shut down, but city officials have been actively working to reopen it as soon as possible. However, they were hit with more setbacks this week.
“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster emotionally,” said City of Clinton City Manager Robert Johnston.
Alliance Health was Clinton Regional Hospital’s facility manager, but they backed out last year which sent the city scrambling for their next move.
Luckily, the city secured a deal with Carrus Health in November.
Five months later though, and that contract is being terminated.
The decision to move forward with contract termination was decided in Tuesday night’s Clinton Hospital Authority meting, according to Johnston.
“The aspects of that contract have fundamentally changed with, you know, the loss of licensure, which you know, initially [we] did not realize was going to take place. And then the need to, you know, bring up that building to today’s current operating standards in the post-COVID environment. Obviously, it’s extremely expensive,” explained Carrus Health President and COO, Jon Rains.
Johnston said an architect recently inspected the building and quoted needed renovations at $6M+.
He told KFOR the hospital has been operating on 1975 standards and codes, so the need for renovations didn’t come as a surprise, but the price tag attached was a shock.
One of the major focuses in bringing the building up to code is updating the central cooling system, according to Johnston.
The city’s total budget for the hospital as of Wednesday morning is $11.6M.
That budget was approved by voters in March.
Johnston said with the renovation quote being so steep, the city may not have enough in the budget to breathe life back into Clinton Regional.
“We’ve been looking into other funding opportunities, you know, grants and things like that,” said Johnston.
Also discussed in Tuesday night’s Clinton Hospital Authority meeting was laying off 79 full-time employees who have been retained since January 1.
Employees were informed days earlier of being let go by Carrus Health, but nothing was official yet.
“I just wanted to be very transparent about, you know, what the situation was looking like, because that’s a commitment that I had with the employees there in Clinton,” said Rains.
Johnston said over the course of the last three months, those employees have been paid over $500,000 every month bringing the total to $1.5M spent on employee pay/benefits since the hospital’s closure so far.
A portion of those benefits were pulled from the hospital’s $11.6M budget, said Johnston.
“Once the money was freed up in the March 7th election, we’ve been using some of that as an investment to keep the team together,” added Johnston. “It just wasn’t financially feasible to continue to pay for the pay and benefits of employees during this interim time.”
The decision to let go employees was not one Johnston said he wanted to make.
Those employee benefits will end April 30.
“Hopefully we can put them back to work sooner rather than later,” stated Johnston.
Rains stated outside of Tuesday night’s meeting, employees have not been formally made aware of the official lay off.
“I assume that will happen [Thursday], but I haven’t had any further discussion at that time,” stated Rains. “We have come to love and appreciate all the employees there at the hospital. I think Clinton has got some really, really great people”
Because of the current setbacks the city is facing, the reopening date will likely be delayed even further.
Johnston said a wait time of 18 months has been thrown around.
“We’re just saying it could be as much as 18 months and that was sobering to hear that even though you may not believe it to be the case. So that was not a number that just came out of thin air,” explained Johnston. “It was a prediction. It was just a ‘you need to be aware of this and that and plan accordingly.'”
Although Carrus Health is no longer the facility manager, the urgent care center on the south side of the Clinton Regional will not be impacted.
“We’re going to lead the urgent care center going just as it is,” said Rains.
The urgent care center has been open for about a month and in that time, Johnston said it has been a big hit.
“Very well patronized. There’s a need for that. People have been pleased with the service. It’s not the same as an E.R., but it meets a lot of people’s immediate needs,” said Johnston.
News 4 asked Rains if Carrus Health would ever reconsider becoming the hospital’s facility manager later down the road.
Rains told KFOR, “Absolutely.”
“We’d be open for re-engagement and we’re also looking forward to maintaining a presence in Clinton with the urgent care and making sure that we can provide the absolute best health care possible with what resources that we have at this time,” added Rains. “I know that this story is a controversial topic, but I don’t think it’s any different than what other rural communities are facing. With the rising cost of health care, operational expenses, health care infrastructure expenses and, you know, with the rises in these expenses, we have not seen a rise in reimbursement since the post market. It is a challenging thing, so I don’t want this to be viewed as a, you know, a negative and forever thing. I think it’s just a time that we all regroup and potentially come up with a different strategy.”
Johnston said he planned to be on conference calls following his interview with News 4 to discuss next steps for the hospital.
News 4 asked what’s next for the hospital to which Johnston said, “The most truthful answer is pinned on all these calls. You think you’ve got something done and it’s not.”
Johnston said the city doesn’t plan to give up on the original plan of reopening the hospital.