Commissioners end $175K contribution with 4-3 voting split

(May 15, 2020) Although Atlantic General Hospital received an annual grant of $175,000 from the Worcester County Commissioners last year, it will receive no county money this year, after a discussion of the hospital’s service area and expansion plans led to a narrow vote to end funding on Tuesday.

The debate leading up to the commissioners’ 4-3 decision began when County Commissioner Jim Bunting said he would back zeroing out all funding to nonprofits in the county. 

“I don't think we should be giving anything to any nonprofits,” Bunting said. 

County Commissioner Diana Purnell disagreed, especially during the time of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“To zero out grants to Atlantic General Hospital would be detrimental to our community,” Purnell said. “The hospitals are going to need everything that they can get.” 

County Commissioner Bud Church added that thought cutting funding to Atlantic General would not sit well with Worcester County citizens. 

County Commissioner Joseph Mitrecic, however, said that after a poor experience with the emergency room at Atlantic General, the emergency room director called him and mentioned that 40 percent of emergency room visits are from Sussex County. Mitrecic said he was concerned that Sussex County was enjoying 40 percent of the emergency room while not making any grants or donations to the hospital. 

“Perhaps if we withhold our funding this year, they’ll go after Sussex County in a more rigorous method to collect more money from them,” Mitrecic said. 

He said that although Worcester residents might not be happy with that, some of them might not realize that so many Sussex County residents are using the hospital without their county paying. Mitrecic  then referenced when Atlantic General CEO Michael Franklin presented commissioners with the hospital’s expansion plans in early March. 

“They need to start worrying about the hospital and not building that campus,” Mitrecic said.

The hospital plans to redesign the inpatient care on the second floor of the hospital and to design a surgical services and ambulatory surgery center in Ocean Pines. 

Mitrecic also pointed out that the hospital received more than $1 million in state funding for the pandemic. 

The motion to cut Atlantic General’s funding from $175,000 to zero passed with the support of Mitrecic, Bunting, Commissioner Ted Elder and Commissioner Chip Bertino. Purnell, Church and Commissioner Joshua Nordstrom voted in opposition.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Franklin said he was disappointed with the commissioner’s decision. He explained that $100,000 of that funding was a continuation of the county’s five-year pledge to support the hospital’s Campaign for the Future to update and renovate facilities. 

“The decision to discontinue that commitment in year four of five of their pledge may set an ill-fated precedent with others that have similar pledges, and that will significantly impact our ability to continue with those plans,” Franklin said. 

The remaining $75,000 was for annual hospital operations. 

“Discontinuing funding support to all nonprofits will put added stress on those citizens most at risk, and will create a disproportionate strain on the health department and hospital moving forward,” Franklin said. 

Atlantic General was the only nonprofit commissioners chose to completely cut from the budget. Franklin also clarified that Atlantic General recently requested and received support from Delaware for critically ill patients.

Elizabeth covers Worcester County issues for Ocean City Today. In 2018, she graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa with a bachelor of arts. After graduation, Elizabeth spent a year with Lutheran Volunteer Corps in Wilmington, Delaware.

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