Walker County is expected to pay Erlanger Hospital $1 million over the next 27 months.
Walker County Commissioner Shannon Whitfield informed a crowd in Rossville Thursday, Aug. 31, that Erlanger Hospital had called him Thursday morning, Aug. 30, saying all negotiations were off the table and the county must pay Erlanger $1 million every 90 days until the $8.7 million debt to the hospital is paid.
Walker County was recently ordered to pay Erlanger $8.7 million plus interest and attorneys' fees to cover its portion of a 2011 loan to keep Hutcheson Medical Center open.
"This is a real problem, folks," Whitfield said to the Wilson Road Neighborhood Group meeting at Mission Glen Baptist Church on Thursday night, Aug. 31, in Rossville.
Whitfield said this is a debt he inherited from the previous administration.
"We are all in this together and there is not a silver bullet to solve this problem," Whitfield said.
Whitfield said after many attempts to negotiate with Erlanger to settle the debt, Erlanger is not budging and wants the $8.7 million amount due.
"They want a check every 90 days for $1 million," Whitfield said.
Whitfield said he offered Erlanger $7.5 million paid out over three years, equaling $625,000 per quarter paid out of the Public Health Facility Service fee.
"Within one hour and one minute, they emailed back the county attorney and said, "no," Whitfield said. "And they said, 'oh, by the way,' in this email, 'August 30th' which was yesterday, 'if we don't have this settlement, you don't verify what you are going to do, all offers are off the table.' They called this morning to let us know all offers are off the table," Whitfield said.
Whitfield said in September, Erlanger will take the commissioner back to federal court because they want a jury trial to prove that the county owes them not only $8.7 million, but also $180,000 in attorney fees plus interest and penalties.
"So, basically, what they are trying to do is they're trying to run that number back up to $10 million," Whitfield said.
Whitfield said the county asked for a 30-day extension to try to work the situation out, but Erlanger's legal team in Atlanta sent the county a document for a 60-day extension on Friday, Aug. 25, only if Whitfield will sign a consent order for the $180,000 legal fees.
Whitfield said he decided to "take his chances," because he "is spending your money."
Whitfield believes the county would receive a 50/50 shot during a jury trial.
"If I just sign the order, you know, we are just up the creek," he said. "So, our county budget for a year is like $23-$24 million in the general fund. They are wanting almost 50 percent of what our annual budget is and they want that in nine quarters, $1 million at a time."
Public health officials have confirmed two cases of West Nile virus (WNV) in Northwest Georgia, including one West Nile-related death in Catoosa County.
Health officials are urging the public to take precautions to prevent the mosquito-borne disease.
"Protecting yourself from mosquito bites, eliminating mosquito breeding grounds, and using larvicides to kill mosquito larva before they can grow into biting adults are the best ways to prevent mosquitoborne illnesses like West Nile," says Dr. Unini Odama, health director for the tencounty Georgia Department of Public Health Northwest Health District.
One nonfatal case is in Floyd County. A second, unfortunate fatal case is in Catoosa County. In Georgia, there have been at least 20 WNV cases so far this year with at least three West Nilerelated deaths. This compares with seven WNV cases and no deaths reported in the state in 2016. All victims were elderly and had underlying conditions that contributed to their deaths.
"West Nile virus may be found and is a risk throughout Georgia and the other lower 48 states," Odama emphasizes. "People should always take precautions to avoid mosquito bites wherever they reside or travel."
WNV cases occur during mosquito season, which starts in the summer and continues through fall, typically until the first hard freeze. July, August, and September are Georgia's months of highest risk for WNV transmission.
Most people get infected with WNV by the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds. Infected mosquitoes can then spread the virus to humans and other animals. There are no vaccines to prevent or medications to treat WNV.
Symptoms of WNV include headache, fever, neck discomfort, muscle and joint aches, swollen lymph nodes, and a rash that usually develop three to 15 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. The elderly, those with compromised immune systems, or those with other underlying medical conditions are at greater risk for complications from the disease.
Fortunately, most people infected with WNV do not have symptoms. About one in five people who are infected develop a fever and other symptoms. About one out of 150 infected people develop a serious, sometimes fatal, illness.
Anyone with questions about WNV should speak to their healthcare provider or call their local county health department's environmental health office. If you think you or a family member might have WNV, consult a healthcare provider for evaluation and diagnosis.
The single most effective way to avoid West Nile virus is to prevent mosquito bites:
Use insect repellents when you go outdoors. Repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthanediol products provide longer-lasting protection.
Wear long sleeves and pants from dusk through dawn when many mosquitoes are most active.
Install or repair screens on windows and doors. If you have it, use your air conditioning.
Help reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home. Practice Tip n' Toss. Empty standing water from containers such as flowerpots, gutters, buckets, pool covers, pet water dishes, discarded tires, and birdbaths.
Use larvicides to treat large containers of water that will not be used for drinking and cannot be covered or dumped out.
For more information on West Nile virus, visit https://www.cdc.gov/westnile Information on EPA-registered insect repellants may be found here: https://tinyurl.com/yb5vscf9.
The following letter from Walker County Elections and Registration's Danielle L. Montgomery concerns what appear to be voter registration forms that are being received by some county residents.
You may have recently received what appears to be a partially completed voter registration form in the mail. This form was not mailed from Walker County or the Secretary of State's office. We do not mail out partially completed voter registration applications. You received this form from the non-profit Voter Participation Center (VPC). It is an organization with the stated goal of increasing voter participation.
"Failing to return this form does not mean you will be removed from the list of voters. If you are concerned about their use of your voter information or registration status, you can verify your voting record using the Secretary of State office's "My Voter Page" (MVP) for registered Georgia voters. If you are interested in completing the form that you received, you can submit it to The Georgia Secretary of State's Office, and they will promptly and securely forward the application to your county registrar.
"If you would like to know more about how your information was obtained and why you were contacted, or if you are concerned about inaccurate information, you should contact the Voter Participation Center directly. You can visit their website at www.voterparticipation.org. Their contact information is below:
The Voter Participation Center
For more than a decade, the Voter Participation Center, a non-profit headquartered in Washginton, D.C, has actively worked to increase voter participation. This is particularly true for what the VPC considers as the Rising American Electorate—unmarried women, people of color, and millennials — who are now the majority of eligible voters.
The group has been faulted for having mailed forms to individual's pets and to the dead. That does not seem to be something done by design, but happens because VPC uses publicly available data to generate mailing lists.
The Secretary of State office wants individuals to understand these mailings are not some sort of scam, and again advise anyone who wants to register or wonders about their voting status to contact either the state or their county registration office.