(May 22, 2020) Armed with a prepared statement, Worcester County Commissioner Chip Bertino on Tuesday defended the commissioners’ decision last week to revoke the county’s $175,000 grant to Atlantic General Hospital.
Bertino, who joined the other commissioners via their now customary Zoom meeting, offered a detailed rebuttal to criticism of that move from the public and AGH leadership.
During the commissioner’s budget work session on May 12, the county zeroed out the grant, and cited as one of its reasons that 40 percent of emergency room visits are from Sussex County, Delaware. The commissioners contended that Sussex County provided no funding to Atlantic General and therefore it was wrong for Worcester residents to shoulder that burden alone.
After last week’s meeting, Atlantic General CEO Michael Franklin countered in a public statement that the hospital does receive support from Delaware for critically ill patients. He added that he was disappointed that the county withdrew its support in the fourth year of its five-year financial pledge.
Bertino, however, said Tuesday that Worcester made no such pledge to the hospital.
“In February 2017, Mr. Franklin informed the commissioners that AGH would seek a county commitment for a $1 million pledge to be paid over five years,” Bertino said. “During its deliberations that year, the commissioners voted not to commit county funds to an ongoing pledge drive, but did approve a single $100,000 grant for the capital campaign.”
He added that the county gave the hospital one-time grants in fiscal years 2019 and 2020 as well.
Bertino said that the commissioners are still attuned to the public’s healthcare needs as they focus on funding emergency services and the volunteer fire companies.
“From fire trucks to ambulances, protective gear to training, costs are rising,” Bertino said. “A fire truck can cost upwards of a million dollars. The cost of an outfitted ambulance isn’t far behind.”
He said volunteer fire companies have been struggling to recruit and retain employees because of intensified training mandates.
“The volunteer companies have begun paying emergency medical technicians so that when an ambulance rolls up to emergency, a well-trained, qualified professional is on the scene,” Bertino said. “This is not inexpensive.”
The commissioners have increased grant amounts, funded scholarships for new recruit training, increased retirement compensation for service of 25 years or more and raised allocations for ambulance runs.
“Directing financial resources to other essential health care concerns within our county in no way diminishes the high regard AGH is held, nor overlooks the vital contribution it makes to our county,” Bertino said.
He also said Sussex County’s funding had no effect on his decision to support zeroing out the hospital’s grant. Finally, Bertino said creating the FY21 budget has been especially difficult because of the uncertain economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Despite our best intentions, there will be disappointment, Bertino said. “For me, in this landscape of questionable revenue projections, it is best that the limited funding available be directed to our emergency responders in EMS, to EMTs and volunteer fire companies.”