The current odd and bad-looking manipulations regarding the creation of a city/county employee health-care clinic, coming hard on the heels of FMC’s power-play seizure of Polk Medical Center, are disturbing. Given that government officials have now been pulled into a struggle involving what are Greater Rome’s two largest employers and pillars of economic activity, it is downright scary. When titans clash it is usually the little people on the ground beneath them that get stepped on and flattened.
This is not to say hanky-panky and bad financial practices have returned to FMC as once was the case not all that long ago (1990s).
It is to say a bad attitude is being shown regarding keeping the public in the loop while not even attempting to explain away arm-twisting methods, along with a certain return of the arrogance that got the institution into most of its woes of the past.
Certainly little fault can be found with FMC’s medical accomplishments — which can also be said of its private-sector, cross-town rival Redmond Regional Medical Center. Both are outstanding in what they do and have the credentials and awards to prove it. The citizen/patients of this community are blessed to have both. Not only that but the folks running/guiding FMC today are a lot nicer and more well-intentioned than some who once had their fingers in the public purse.
HOWEVER, MUCH fault can be found with what increasingly looks like backroom dealings and the appearance of an expectation, on the part of FMC leadership, that being “king of the hill” in the public sector (their budget dwarfs even that of the school systems) gives it an imperial right to have everybody else do what they’re told.
The Polk deal, with tax-exempt FMC in effect promising to pay that county what they are not required to contribute to their homeplace county, was bad enough given that in Floyd possible millions of dollars a year might be involved. Nary a word of sensible defense/explanation has been given the public about that one yet.
However, when FMC tries to muscle its way into a very small payoff — the clinic costs are pegged at about $200,000 a year — using county commissioners as its errand boys ... oh, boy!
The study/bidding process for the wellness clinic — intended to save taxpayer money as both the city and county are self-insured regarding medical expenses of employees — had been going on for two years. H2U First Onsite, a subsidiary of the same national company that owns Redmond, won fair and square as the best proposal out of the eight received. Another, which ranked fourth, was from Healthstat in partnership with FMC.
Yet, at the last minute before a final vote was to be taken, County Chairman Irwin Bagwell and Commissioner Garry Fricks, both of whom should have known better, threw onto the table an unsolicited and less expensive offer from FMC alone now that FMC knew what H2U’s low-bid dollar offer was.
NOT ONLY that but they, supported by two city commissioners, Bill Collins and Kim Canada, argued that the formal process should now be abandoned and the selection reopened. One expects that from legislators who have well-greased pockets, but commissioners?
To her considerable credit and that of those who joined her, Rome Mayor Evie McNiece refused to even look at FMC’s last-minute deal, saying: “In my opinion, it would be unethical, so we didn’t even touch it.”
Similarly, County Comm-issioner Chad Whitefield — a former chairman and himself not unfamiliar with the health-care field — could not keep his jaw from dropping: “I didn’t know Garry and Irwin were presenting a new proposal from FMC until I read it in the paper this morning. I think it sets a dangerous precedent.”
Indeed it does, including the notion that it is the bottom line alone that determines how good a health-care proposal is that is intended solely to offer to create what amounts to a free-to-very-inexpensive ($20) place for public employees to check whether sniffles or chest pains are a cold or pneumonia, indigestion or a heart problem. No matter who won the bid, the proposal outline mandated that patient/employees be free to then go on to the doctor of their choice.
THE CITY Commission has voted, 5-2, to proceed with the H2U offer. It is much to be hoped that the County Commission will act similar even though only 3 votes out of the 5 members will determine that with 2 votes already declared to be in FMC’s hip pocket. Fair’s fair — which is how Redmond won the ambulance contracts for Polk and Chattooga counties that may well have triggered FMC’s new scorched-earth approach to competition.
As the newest city commissioner, Bill Irmscher, intelligently commented in regards to FMC’s last-minute counter: “If I have the last look (at a competitor’s proposal), I can always win.” Indeed, should FMC now be offered this deal it should be required that Redmond be asked if it wishes to offer its own stand-alone clinic proposal ... for 10 cents a year less than FMC’s bottom line.
As for what has already occurred and what it looks like, as previous writers for this space would likely have commented: Balderdash and bull hockey!
Particularly puzzling is the silence on FMC’s part regarding both the Polk Medical Center and employee-clinic power plays. Does it have logical explanations to put on billboards and full-page newspaper ads, in mailers to every taxpayer/shareholder home ... or does this exceed the abilities of even the smoothest fast talkers?
FMC HAS NOT only one of the highest-paid bureaucracies in state hospital administration, it also has the largest and most talented propaganda machine — pardon, public-relations department — in this entire region that money can buy. Its recent response to the city’s ban on putting those now-famous green-and-pink breast cancer silhouettes on public rights-of-way was so slick, so fast that it almost appeared choreographed with advance word of what would take place.
Back before the recent FMC bully-boy antics, in discussing and supporting the proposed employee-clinic concept, this newspaper wondered if something similar shouldn’t be made available to all residents of Floyd County.
It now must wonder, as all citizens should, why FMC shouldn’t provide those millions in taxes it now doesn’t pay in Floyd — but will in Polk — to create similar sniffle-checking free clinics open to all comers in every neighborhood of the county.