Duane Fitch has been trying to have a sit-down meeting with the Lee County Board of Supervisors for months, but it does not appear that will happen anytime soon. That's because Board Chairman Ron Fedler is not extending him an invitation.
Fitch heads the firm that is managing Keokuk Area Hospital. He has attended a few Lee County Board meetings in the last couple of years, most often requesting financial support from the county.
The hospital is eligible for a program that aims to close the gap between the amount rural hospitals spend to treat Medicaid/Medicare patients and the amount they are reimbursed.
Fitch said KAH could receive about $300,000 if the county and the city of Keokuk each contribute $100,000 as a local match. Similar requests have been granted each of the last two years, so he wants to meet with the county board to ask for a third round of funding.
"It's not a bail-out [and] it's not asking for assistance," said Fitch. "It’s simply one of the many, many federal reimbursement programs that fund federal hospitals these days.”
Fitch said after months of unsuccessfully trying to sit down with the county board, the hospital is running out of time to apply for the federal money.
Fedler said he has no plans to allow Fitch to make his request.
Fedler said as chair of the Board of Supervisors, he is in charge of what goes on the agenda for the board's weekly meetings. He anticipated the hospital requesting another $100,000 in 2015, so he spoke individually with fellow supervisors Rick Larkin and Don Hunold.
Fedler said both men told him they would not support another contribution for KAH, which helped Fedler make up his mind.
"I said, well, then there is no sense bringing it up before the board because if both of you vote no, it will not pass because I have voted no the last two years," said Fedler ."So I said, you know, the chair has to approve the agenda and I am not going to put us all through a long argument and debate just to have it voted down."
Tri States Public Radio reached out to both Larkin and Hunold about their conversations with Fedler. Each was asked in an email if they would vote against another $100,000 for KAH.
Supervisor Rick Larkin's response:
"When the BOS (Board of Supervisors) approved $100,000 last year, I told everyone at the meeting that was the last time I would vote for it."
Supervisor Don Hunold's response:
"That is correct."
Fedler said he also wants to keep the item off the agenda because of the pressure that could come if a room full of people show up in support of the hospital.
"I don't want somebody to end up coming there and trying to intimidate one of the other two board members to change their mind," said Fedler. "It appears to me that [hospital supporters] will come there in force because they want you to tell them no to their face. Some people, you know, find it difficult to do that. So I am not going to let them do it, based on taking [Larkin & Hunold's] word on what they told me."
Each Board of Supervisors meeting has a public input session. Fedler said hospital representatives and supporters are welcome to attend and speak during the input session, but he said there would not be any corresponding vote by the board. He said it also comes down to fairness and precedence.
"I have already been contacted about some other businesses in Lee County," said Fedler. "[They said] if [KAH] gets any more money, then we will be coming to the [supervisors] for money. If [the county] has that much money, you can start giving it to private businesses. It's got to stop or we will be there."
Duane Fitch said he wants to work things out with the county before asking Keokuk for a six-figure contribution. To that end, he plans to continue reaching out to residents and lawmakers to try to find someone who can change Fedler's mind about getting the hospital on the agenda.
"We are all prepared to talk to the county about the economic impact of a $500,000 infusion into Lee County, both from the perspective of health care access as well as the economic benefits," said Fitch.
"We feel our case is compelling and for [Fedler] to prejudge how [supervisors] would vote is probably beyond the scope of what we request he do."