Holzer Officials Ask Commissioners Not To Rescind Charity Care Memo

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Officials of Holzer Health System told the Athens County Commissioners on Tuesday that rescinding a 2012 memorandum relating to charity care would hurt lower-income people, and said the memo has nothing to do with Holzer Clinic seeking a tax exemption.

Earlier this month, the commissioners followed the recommendation of Federal Hocking School Board member Tom McGuire and voted to rescind the memo. They also voted to rescind a 2011 agreement relating to the issuing of bonds, and to declare that the bonds were not issued in accordance with that agreement.

The bonds were connected with nonprofit Holzer Health Systems’ acquisition of the for-profit Holzer Clinic, and McGuire has said the bond agreement was originally approved by the commissioners without Holzer disclosing that it would lead to Holzer Health seeking a property tax exemption for the clinic. Federal Hocking is contesting Holzer’s tax exemption application (filed earlier this year with the Ohio Department of Taxation) because it would cost the school system about $100,000 annually in tax revenue.

Although the commissioners voted on the matter earlier this month, it was contingent upon County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn’s review of the matter. The actions have not yet been implemented, and, through Blackburn, Holzer officials asked for Tuesday’s meeting with the commissioners.

Brent Saunders, chairman of Holzer Health System’s board of directors, and Holzer in-house counsel Ellen Garling met with the commissioners.

Saunders said the charity care memorandum is unrelated to the tax exemption application.

Garling said the memo ties the clinic to Holzer Hospital in Gallipolis, and revoking the memo would mean that people with incomes at 300 percent of the federal poverty level or lower would no longer be able to receive free care at the clinic — although they would still be eligible for up to a 30 percent discount.

Saunders presented the commissioners with a four-page brochure titled, “Holzer’s Commitment to Athens County Schools & Communities.”

According to the brochure, Holzer provides $5,000 athletic training stipends each to Alexander, Federal Hocking, Nelsonville-York and Trimble Local Schools. Holzer also provides team physicians to Alexander and Federal Hocking, and to the Ohio University Hockey Club. Free sports physicals are provided to all five schools districts in the county.

Since 2009, Holzer has made $8,400 in other donations to Federal Hocking and $2,000 to Alexander. During that same time period, $126,200 was provided to OU, although Commissioner Chris Chmiel indicated that Federal Hocking or Trimble might have gotten more benefit from that funding.

In addition, Holzer provided $8,550 to Athens County organizations in 2013 and $9,561 in 2012.

Systemwide, Holzer provided $6.8 million in charity care between July 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014.

“Holzer has a history of proving support to the community,” Saunders said.

He noted that three other health facilities in Athens — Ohio Health O’Bleness Hospital, Health Recovery Services and Tri-County Mental Health and Counseling (now Hopewell Health Centers) — have property tax exemptions.

“We were kind of a little taken aback that we were being singled out (for criticism),” Saunders said. “We have not done anything but follow the Ohio Revised Code as far as real estate taxes.”

McGuire said he believes those other health facilties had tax exemptions from their beginning. If Holzer Clinic gets the exemption, a total of about $200,000 annually in tax revenue that is currently being received by Federal Hocking and other local entities would be lost.

“We will have to lay off employees in the (event) that the tax exemption application is approved,” McGuire said of Federal Hocking.

The commissioners said they want to give more thought to whether they want to proceed with the actions that McGuire requested earlier this month. They tabled the matter until next week’s meeting.