After officially putting the contract out for bid in October, Lyon County Commissioners on Thursday discussed financial details regarding the future provision of local public health and environmental services with representatives from Newman Regional Health and the Flint Hills Community Health Center.
In effect since 2015, the county’s current contract has provided FHCHC with an annual allocation of $450,000 for the funding of such services. The agreement was set to expire at the end of this year, but included an option for commissioners to renew the terms under a similar structure. While the new contract may include the same, or similar, figures upon finalization, the county will nonetheless have an additional $200,000 to draw from next year after approving the increase during budget discussions in June in order to reduce the strain of the pandemic.
In discussing their decision to let the contract expire, commissioners said the choice was based strictly on matters of money rather than any dissatisfaction with FHCHC’s handling of the community’s COVID-19 situation or related public health orders.
Commissioner Rollie Martin said this year’s decision was made more critical by the fact the county would likely lose several additional sources of federal and state funding for virus-related issues at the beginning of 2021.
“One of our main functions as a county board of commissioners is to really look at finding the best deals for our tax payers,” said Martin during a mid-October phone call with The Gazette. “That’s what we’re going to be basing this decision on, but that’s all I can really comment on at this time.”
Newman Regional Health CEO Robert Wright was the first to discuss his organization’s bid Thursday, saying the hospital would be able to take on the role of the county’s health department with the traditional $450,000 allocation — and with the opportunity to negotiate for additional funds should the need arise.
While thankful to have NRH considered for the undertaking, Wright said he was also a bit apprehensive to perform such a transfer in the midst of a pandemic. He suggested that, should the county award the contract to the hospital, commissioners may consider waiting to do so until the end of 2021 or during a time when the area’s virus cases were better under control.
“We think it would be a better transition for the county if we work together during the transition period because there’s other grant dollars involved with public health that we wouldn’t want to see end prematurely,” Wright said. “That’s our major concern, but we’re certainly flexible as far as a start date.”
Flint Hills Community Health Center CEO Renee Hively submitted a bid for the full public health budget allocation of $650,000, stating there would be no significant alterations in provided services from the prior agreement. When asked if she would be willing to perform a transfer of services sometime in the next year, Hively offered no comment, saying the question was a “double-sided” one.
“You’re assuming that you’re already going to award the bid to Newman Regional Health, if that’s the case,” Hively said.
She went on to reference her frustration with the situation at large, telling commissioners the timing of the process had been especially draining for health center staff considering the success of past partnerships.
“As far as the knowledge and years of experience that we’ve been providing public health services for Lyon County, I think that should stand by itself,” Hively said. “Lyon County has had one of the top health departments in the state of Kansas and has always been a leader with initiatives here in Kansas and a leader for other health departments … I do want to say that for my staff, this has kind of been a deflator. I understand you have to do your due process, but in the middle of a pandemic, it seems a little irrational that this would happen this year.
“Now, [Wright] is asking us to take it on for another year so that he can take it the next year. I think we need a decision this year, and soon. If it goes to the hospital, you’re going to have to put a state plan together and get that approved by the state. But, at the end of this year, our contract is ended. You guys have ended that. So, we kind of need to know which way you’re going.”
No official decision on the matter was made Thursday, with commissioners citing the need for more discussion and increased collaboration between NRH and FHCHC should a transition occur. Currently, discussion on the matter is set to continue during next week’s meeting, which will begin 9 a.m. Thursday at the Lyon County Courthouse.
“We’re not going to table a motion, because there’s not a motion on the floor to accept one [bid] or the other at this point,” Martin said. “By parliamentary procedure, we’re going to continue this until we can get some clear definition of what each side will and will not do … we will continue this privately with our negotiating team to answer some of these questions in a better, more definitive way.”