Why did the Drake Hospital Board think they could ask for a 39 percent tax levy increase when they weren't prepared to explain why they needed so much money?
Hamilton County's Tax Levy Review Committee correctly said no to the hospital's request to put the five-year levy on the March ballot. Drake will now have to wait until November 2004 to ask again. By then we hope officials have more persuasive documentation on why the costs for the hospital's skilled nursing facility average two or three times that of other nursing homes.
The hospital may still be able to justify the bigger levy request totaling $96 million over five years, and Drake deserves the high praise it got from the levy review panel for its turnaround in the 1990s into a world-class facility. The hospital's intensive long-term acute-care division and rehabilitation services aren't the problem. They are financially sound. But in the case of the skilled nursing facility, not only does it currently cost $110,000 per person per year on top of federal dollars and private insurance, the new levy would raise that added county cost to $150,000 per person per year.
Drake leaders argue the reason the skilled nursing facility costs are so high is that Drake takes the toughest cases - people who have been seriously injured in an automobile crash or have some other catastrophic problem. Granted: Drake takes the tough cases, and there are crossover benefits for patients from doctors and labs being at the same site. There is no question that Drake is a rare asset, but whether it is an asset the county can afford is a question that needs to be debated. Hamilton County is the only Ohio county that subsidizes such a facility. Long-term hospitals elsewhere rely on Medicaid to pay the bills for such cases. Nursing home operators in this region say they would be happy to take Drake's skilled nursing facility patients.
The tax levy review panel and the commissioners would be remiss not to seek more detailed answers about Drake's upward spiraling cost increases. They are wise to seek a second opinion on costs. County Commissioner Phil Heimlich wants to see if other operators could serve Drake's skilled nursing facility patients more efficiently. Commissioner Todd Portune, who receives therapy at Drake after spinal surgery, is right to abstain from decisions on this levy.
It's good to see the levy review system working as it should. The days of rubberstamping levy requests at last seem to be mercifully behind us.
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