Chamber voices support for hospital district in Orange

The Greater Orange Chamber of Commerce released a statement Oct. 20 announcing its support for a hospital district in the area.

Area leaders have been looking for a solution to the absence of a full-service hospital since Baptist Hospital of Southeast Texas Orange Campus terminated its emergency services in January.

“Baptist Hospital of Southeast Texas Orange Campus’s closure of obstetrics in 2013, in-patient services in 2015 and emergency services in 2017, has placed significant strain on the healthcare services available to Orange County residents,” the statement by the Chamber reads.

The Chamber said that it is now urgent for Orange County leaders to consider the formation of an Orange County Hospital District to meet the healthcare needs of its citizens, local businesses, and local industries.

Public Hospital Districts are community-created, governmental entities authorized by state law to deliver health services — including but not limited to acute hospital care — to district residents and others in the districts’ service areas. Facilities operating in a Hospital District are also eligible for federal reimbursement programs and waivers.

The Chamber says the formation of a hospital district would serve as a job retention and job creation strategy, create job expansion opportunities, and improve the quality of life for Orange County.

A special election to vote on whether or not to form a hospital district in Orange County is scheduled for Dec. 19 with early voting set to begin on Dec. 4.

How the vote came about

Jessica Hill, executive director of the Orange County Economic Development Corporation, said Commissioner’s Court accepted a petition to call for an election to place before the voters the option of a hospital district. Bound by statute, once the petition is received and verified, the court set a date of Dec. 19. Health and Safety Code requires the election to be set within a certain number of days after the petition is presented, she said.

None of this is an Orange County Commissioners Court decision, Hill pointed out.

“The petition was brought to the county by private business owners and signed by Orange County residents,” she said.“The petition called for the district to include the county boundary.”

Should the majority of voters favor the formation of a district, a board will be appointed to formerly establish the tax rate, Hill said, with a maximum rate of 18 cents per $100 valuation. Should  the board at any point wish to raise the rate above 18 cents, it would need to go back for voter approval, she said.

“Due to the benefits a hospital district provides a service provider, it is not unimaginable for the district to assess no tax at all. Several districts throughout the state have a zero rate. The average across Texas is 18 cents,” Hill said. “Should it pass, all Orange County residents would be assessed the board determined rate. Placement of an actual facility would be determined by the Board and any service provider engaged in the re-establishment of healthcare in Orange County.”

Unlike the Orange Chamber, Hill is unable to take a side on the issue due to her position in the EDC within the county, but did say she would share the facts.

“Orange County needs emergency services that cover more than insured patients,” Hill said. “Our citizens deserve the best care. They should not have to drive out of the county to receive such care. At some point they started believing that Orange County could not attract quality healthcare services. I don’t believe that. If we are willing to provide incentives to a chemical plant, we should also incentivize businesses that every Orange Countian can benefit from.”

 Hill, who is not affiliated with the Chamber, said she believes the loss of services is not only detrimental to the individuals of Orange County, but also to the perception it creates for businesses looking to locate and expand in Orange County.