The City of Junction City again did not commit to a funding request to support Geary Community Hospital through the end of the year.
City Commissioners Tuesday heard from GCH Board Chair Theresa Bramlage, asking Junction City officials to commit up to $3 million in funds to help the hospital cover necessary capital improvements and offer GCH a safety net should the organization experience a revenue shortfall through the end of 2022.
“Based on the assessment that Stormont Vail has done, we have just under $2 million in repairs that need to be done before that joint commission’s site visit in January or February,” says Bramlage. “This is, again, a huge economic treasure for our community and once again I don’t know how we didn’t end up closing our doors.
“We, as a board, have been persistent, and so evidence of that is being here again today. We need your support.”
Nearly $28 million in work needed to bring GCH back up to code and address other facility issues was identified in November of 2021 to the Geary County Commission. Stormont Vail in July of 2022 announced that it would be stepping in to run the hospital as well as its rural health clinic through 2023 under the name Stormont Vail – Flint Hills Campus.
Bramlage says Junction City’s support would be a great help in ensuring plans with Stormont Vail don’t fade away in the event of any revenue shortfalls. GHC Board Vice Chair Cecil Aska put emphasis on the ‘up to’ language in their request, saying he’s hopeful there won’t be shortfalls or need beyond necessary infrastructure upgrades and maintenance at the facility.
“I’m very conservative and would like to make sure we have something to fall back on just in case,” says Aska.
Junction City officials, though, maintained their inability to provide support at that price tag. Previously, the city had denied a $6.5 million funding request from GCH citing JC’s current financial situation. City Manager Allen Dinkel has been up front that what turned out to be ‘bad’ decisions by prior commissions has left JC strapped for cash and dealing with high amounts of debt.
“We’ve got to realize this city as of next month, we still have $56 million in [general obligation]debt in a city of our size that should never get above $20 million,” Dinkel says. “I don’t think there’s anybody here that doesn’t believe the hospital is not important, […] it’s just how you financially do it from the city standpoint.”
Additionally, Dinkel has noted that the city’s cash reserves aren’t in a place to handle the expense. He pointed to an $8.5 million bond payment due from JC in August as well as major expenses required of them at the city’s wastewater treatment plant. An operator error in December 2021 led to the facility losing power amid wind storms and poured 600,000 gallons of water into its basement.
Dinkel says he’s been in talks with Geary County about different ways the city can support the hospital and possible smaller sums they can offer through altered contracts and other considerations, though at this point the two sides have yet to reach an agreement.
Bramlage says having some sort of game plan in place with the city and county will be vital should a shortfall crop up, asking what the city’s financial situation would look like should the hospital be forced to close.
“It would be months, months, projected 9 months before things could re-open,” she says. “What happens then to those  employees? They get displaced, they go elsewhere, it would be such a challenge – especially in this world of healthcare and workforce – to bring them back.”
Ultimately, though, Dinkel recommended that the commission not commit to the up-to-$3 million as requested by GCH unless they were willing to start slashing the city’s 2023 budget as well. Dinkel also commented on the difficulty posed by committing the funds at the expense of providing city employees raises.
“I’ve got to stand for the employees,” he says.
Mayor Jeff Underhill agreed that the city isn’t in the position to commit to providing up to $3 million to GCH.
“I think right now we’re in a position to say we’re going to keep working with the county, try and be creative,” he says.
Vice Mayor Pat Landes was staunch in opposing making any financial commitments to the hospital, saying the responsibility lies in the hands of Geary County.
“When the city got into trouble, we didn’t go crying to the County saying you need to help us out,” says Landes. “This is on them.
“All this has kind of come to a head, and not overnight. Over a decade.”
Commissioner Nate Butler urged caution about levying responsibility or blame on Geary County, saying the two organizations need to work together.
“If we say the County is over here, the city is over here and the school board is over here and we don’t come together and work together to work this out we’re going to miss out on something,” Butler says. “I hope that the two sides can come together and say let’s put this together, let’s come up with some kind of plan and make sure that this thing rolls through.”
Bramlage agreed, saying the benefit is mutual and that she looks forward to continued support.
“I appreciate any consideration,” she says. “And we may be back.”