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McCurtain County hospital loses funding over century-old law

McCurtain Memorial Hospital

Southeastern Oklahoma’s McCurtain County Memorial Hospital has lost much of its funding after a recent state Supreme Court decision.

In November 2022, McCurtain County voters approved a measure to raise the lodging tax on hotels and Airbnbs from 3 percent to 5 percent. The tax funds the county hospital and helps pay for a planned new hospital building.

However, Oklahoma’s Supreme Court ruled earlier this month the county failed to strictly adhere to a law passed more than a century ago. That law requires ballot proposals be published in a local newspaper for four weeks before the election. In 2020, the county had previously tried to pass a similar ballot measure and did adhere to the newspaper posting requirements, though that vote ultimately failed.

However, in the 2022 election, the county educated voters through radio advertisements, social media, town halls and other means during an extensive, three-month publicity campaign.

The tax measure was the latest development in a contentious relationship between Hochatown and McCurtain County. Hochatown is a newly incorporated town in the county with fewer than 300 residents but more than 2,000 vacation rental cabins. It’s not clear how McCurtain County will fund its healthcare system without this tax revenue from Hochatown.

Hospital CEO Brian Whitfield said he is disappointed, but the ruling simply means the hospital has to regroup.

“If anyone felt that this was an opportunity to simply sit back and watch the hospital’s demise… you should’ve packed a sack lunch because we’re going to be out on the field for a long time today,” he said.

Whitfield said the hospital is the sole healthcare provider within a 60-mile radius, but its failing infrastructure means a new hospital building is a necessity for the community.

This report was produced by the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange, a collaboration of public media organizations. Help support collaborative journalism by donating at the link at the top of this webpage.

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