A rural southwestern Oklahoma hospital received a $23 million loan to help fund improvements. The Journal Report reports the loan is part of $501 million in United States Department of Agriculture investments in health care services and related services.
Jacob McCleland: You're listening to the Business Intelligence Report, a weekly conversation about business news in Oklahoma. I'm Jacob McCleland and our guest is Russell Ray. He's the editor of The Journal Record newspaper. Russell, thank you for joining us.
Russell Ray: Hi Jacob. It's good to be here.
McCleland: Well let's talk first about the hospital in Elk City. The facility just received a $23 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I mean, what's the hospital going to do with this loan?
Ray: Well the loan will be used to keep the Great Plains Regional Medical Center fully funded and operational. It will also be used as capital to fund certain hospital improvements. And you know, rural health care facilities like the one in Elk City are constantly struggling to stay afloat. And the USDA is working to resolve some of those funding issues. And the Elk City loan is actually part of a $500 million USDA investment in rural health care infrastructure and services across the nation.
McCleland: Now this hospital has kind of an interesting ownership set up between two different organizations. But this could be changing. Could you explain this to us.?
Ray: That's right. The medical center is actually owned by the Farmers Union Hospital Association and a not for profit corporation known as GPRMC Holdings was formed last year to support the association's efforts. So each has their own board of directors but they remain related for tax and audit purposes. Now hospital CEO Corey Lively told us GPRMC plans to purchase the hospital from the association. But Lively said patients won't notice any change in operations due to the change in ownership.
McCleland: What are some of the challenges that Elk City's hospital is currently facing?
Ray: Well rural health care facilities across the nation are really struggling to stay open. Here in Oklahoma higher medical costs coupled with a high number of uninsured patients is really creating serious financial problems for rural hospitals and clinics. In fact Oklahoma has one of the highest number of uninsured in the nation. So lower reimbursements and higher costs have really created some very difficult circumstances for healthcare in rural communities.
McCleland: Switching gears to another recent story from the Journal Record, a national consultant outlined several changes for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. That's the state regulatory body that oversees oil and gas drilling, wastewater disposal, utility rates, telecommunications and a whole host of other industries. What are some of the highlights of these recommendations?
Ray: Well there were 23 recommendations in all and the study found the commission needs a better management system that collects data on operational capabilities. It also found the commission lacks a strategic plan with a focus on achieving its primary mission. Another gap centers around the lack of a comprehensive change management process that's consistent with the commission's overall mission.
McCleland: The report didn't address whether the corporation commission needs more funding. Why did Commissioner Todd Hiett say he wished the consultants would have addressed funding in this?
Ray: The agency is actually seeing increasing numbers in drilling permits and it needs more funding to keep up with that demand. And without added funding it will be difficult, Hiett said, to meet the agency's mission effectively. In addition the commission budget has been reduced by $7 million over the last four years.
McCleland: And this is a commission that continues to add some new duties from time to time. And what are some of the new duties that the Corporation Commission has now?
Ray: Well in addition to oil and gas, electricity rates and telecommunications, the commission also oversees ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft. It also is responsible for gathering and posting information about wind turbine placements for pending wind power projects in Oklahoma.
McCleland: Russell Ray is the editor of The Journal Record newspaper. Russell thank you for your time and happy Thanksgiving.
Ray: Hey thank you.
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