Hard to justify a city fee to hospital patients


Recently Mount Airy Commissioner Jon Cawley voiced the idea of Northern Hospital of Surry County adding a surcharge to patient bills as a means for the city to recoup expenses he believes it has incurred as a result of the hospital operating in the city limits.

Cawley specifically cited several examples:

– The city’s purchase of an expensive ladder truck — needed primarily because of the presence of the hospital and Wal-mart in the city limits;

– The city fire department, in its role as a first responder to medical emergencies, often transports patients to the hospital;

– The fact that the city police department personnel seem to spend a good deal of time on hospital grounds.

One of the things we respect about Cawley is that he’s not afraid to put ideas on the table, regardless of whether they are politically correct or not. He doesn’t mind ruffling a few feathers in the pursuit of watching out for city residents. More often than not, we find quite a bit of wisdom in his statements and questions.

Unfortunately, we have to disagree with most of his premise on this idea.

Regarding the fire department’s transport of patients, it was city fire department officials who asked city commissioners for permission to become first medical responders, and the city commission gave that approval. It is the city’s own personnel who have taken it upon themselves to be involved in these transports, rather than allowing volunteer rescue squads to handle the work Northern Hospital patients shouldn’t have to foot the bill for a city-initiated program which many of them have no connection to.

Cawley cited the fact that Surry County EMS charges people for medical transport as an example of such services be funded by users. While we’re not sure EMS ambulance charges are a good idea, at least the program charges each individual user for the service he or she uses. That’s a far cry from charging every hospital patient, regardless of how they got to the hospital, because the city fire department decided it wanted to get in the first responder and medical transport business.

In terms of the city police officers spending time at the hospital, Chief Dale Watson said most of that is because officers are there interviewing witnesses, gathering information on active criminal investigations where the crime took place elsewhere within the city limits. That has nothing to do with hospital operations — it’s no different than interviewing a person at their home, place of residence, or any other location. The hospital, presumably, just happens to be where they are at the time police are collecting information.

Occasionally police are at the hospital making arrests, charging individuals. Here again, they go where the crime is committed. We wouldn’t impose a separate arrest charge on someone because they were taken into custody at their home, or charge their employer because the person was arrested at work, or even charge the school system because someone is arrested on school grounds.

The ladder truck and similar expenses, however, are a different story, and could be justification for some sort of hospital fee. Cawley specifically cited the hospital and Walmart as the reasons the city needed the ladder truck, and Walmart pays taxes to the city. Presumably, that helps alleviate its portion of the costly need.

The hospital does not.

Then again, perhaps having a thriving, high-quality medical facility in the city, and the accompanying jobs it provides, not to mention the convenience it provides to city residents,is payment enough, and having the ladder truck is simply part of the price of being a city.

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