Thursday, August 30, 2007






  County, ETMC settle lawsuit
By Pearl Cantrell and Michael Hannigan
Monitor Staff Writers

ATHENS–Henderson County Commissioners accepted a settlement agreement with East Texas Medical Center Regional Healthcare System Tuesday, just one day before ETMC and the county were scheduled to appear before a federal judge.
While details of the agreement cannot officially be released until all parties sign and the court publishes the settlement, county officials seemed pleased.
“I’ve been looking for this day for a year and a half,” Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry West said as he seconded the motion.
“It provides the county with indigent health care program with the least amount of expense, and insures the basis for a healthy relationship between ETMC and the county,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Wade McKinney said.
ETMC attorney Dean Davis could not be reached for comment before presstime Tuesday.
The settlement brings to an end a sometimes-ugly battle which began with a letter by County Attorney James Owen. In that November 2004 letter, Owen wrote that ETMC Athens was in contractual default with the Henderson County Hospital Authority Board on two issues: malpractice insurance and indigent health obligations.
After much arguing back and forth and the reconstitution of the Authority Board in March 2006, ETMC filed suit against the county in United States District Court.
In its annual report earlier this year, the Authority Board described the reason for the lawsuit as “[ETMC’s] inability to allow threat of confiscation of all their medical facilities in Henderson County, and various other actions, to remain unresolved.”
Pretrial motions in that lawsuit were scheduled to begin in Tyler Wednesday, Henderson County Judge David Holstein told The Monitor.
“I was anticipating going to court,” he said. “It was a long shot that we’d have an agreement,” he said.
According to Owen, ETMC had asked to postpone the trial until April 2008, and the county agreed. The judge in the case, however, denied the motion and set the trial, Owen said
That decision reignited the negotiations.
“I didn’t know we had an agreement until 5 p.m. Monday,” Holstein said.
Owen and Holstein, who were both personally named in the lawsuit, said the deal could be worth as much as $800 million in saved indigent health care costs over the course of the 60-year agreement.
Each year, the county has paid for what it considers indigent health care from inmate health care, indigent care through other than the hospital, and through county residents getting indigent care outside the county. All that added up to $165,000 in 2006, Holstein said.
Those expenses will now be paid by ETMC through the annual state tobacco settlement funds, as stipulated in the settlement.
With medical care inflation costs rising about 9 percent a year factored into all the money that is saved over 60 years and add 5 percent growth for investment – it’s close to a billion dollars.
“The settlement resolves the controversy and commits ETMC to serve the indigent population of this county for the long term,” Owen said.
The original 1967 agreement with ETMC had the intent of relieving the county of the cost of indigent health care, including physician services, which back then were handled by the hospital, Holstein explained.
“The intent of that agreement has been restored,” he said.
The Hospital Authority Board – which was also named in the lawsuit – meets at 3 p.m. Thursday (today) at ETMC Athens to consider the agreement.
A second future-building action was taken following the closed executive session. Commissioners approved an option to purchase a 44.3 -acre tract one mile north of the jail inside Loop 7 and adjacent to Athens Steel.
The county has 60 days to finalize the purchase.
“With the growing population in the county and the government’s need to grow with it, this action takes us one step forward in procuring a successful future,” Holstein said.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Ronny Lawrence was recognized for seeking out suitable property.
The commissioners approved two checks to be issued Tuesday: one for $2,500 to buy the option from the Sarah Alice Cox Family Trust and a second one for $5,000 as earnest money to the escrow company.

Commissioners hear air quality rule changes
By Barbara Gartman
Monitor Staff Writer

KAUFMAN–Facing problems with air pollution and how to reduce the vehicle emissions of nitrogen oxide, the 80th Texas Legislature made some changes and extended other policies.
Monday, Jason Brown, Air Quality Operations Coordinator with North Central Texas Council of Governments, presented a report on the recent changes to Kaufman County Commissioners.
The Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) was extended to 2013 with funding increases. A public hearing on the matter is set for 2 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 11, Brown said.
Senate Bill 12, passed by the State Legislature expands areas eligible for TERP funding.
It also requires the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to look into the feasibility of Internet-based application for rebate grants, as well as to contract with a Houston higher education facility to implement and administer new technology, Brown reported.
TERP funding for fiscal year 2008 is $73,403.322, and for FY 2009 is $148, 572,122.
Another avenue, the Low Income Repair and Replacement Assistance Program (LIRAP), offers financial help to individuals with a vehicle that will not pass the emissions inspection, Brown said.
Qualifying income levels are 300 percent of poverty level, allowing a family of four to net $61,950 and still qualify, he added.
LIRAP allows for the replacement of an older vehicle, not to exceed $25,000.
These vehicles must be at least 10 years old, but it is not necessary for it to have failed the emissions test.
Citizens can call (817) 704-2514 for information on the LIRAP program.
In other business, commissioners:
• tabled action to place the county under a burn ban.
County Judge Wayne Gent reported a call from Fire Marshal Larry Ewing, who said the action was not necessary, as the drought index number remained low.
Gent said the item will remain on the agenda each week in case the number rises.
• approved putting a 30 mph speed limit sign on Taylor Ranch Loop in Precinct 4, as well as placing a “No Through Trucks” sign on County Road 4102 in Precinct 4.
A public hearing was called for each individual item.
• approved an emergency budget change of $40,000 for the tax assessor’s office.
Tax assessor/collector Dick Murphey planned to purchase needed voting equipment for upcoming elections, but technology director George York said he needed additional time to get the equipment set up and run the necessary tests on it.
• approved a request from purchasing agent Jack Sabastian to advertise for bids for the installation of a concrete pad for the auto impound department.
Bidding will close Friday, Sept. 14, and bids received will be opened at 10 a.m. Monday, Sept. 17.
• renewed the contract with Safeguard Imaging Solutions, a state CISV vendor, for indexing and imaging for the county clerk’s office.
The cost, paid for with return investment funds, totals $238,990.34.
• renewed the annual contract for HVAC services as presented by Sabastian.
• purchased property as presented at 503 Cabell St. Kaufman, adjacent to the Precinct 1 storage facility.
• approved the request from Embarq to install buried communications equipment along the right-of-way of CR 4070 in Precinct 4.
• extended the contract term with Combine Mechanical with the TCEQ regarding the funding of the AirCheck Texas Repair and Replacement Assistance Program.
• approved budget transfers as presented by auditor Hal D. Jones.
• paid bills totaling $178,750.58.

Get along, little buckaroo
Monitor Photo/Kerry Yancey

Accompanied by mom Dusty Pittman and leader Payton Collins of Athens, 19-month-old Rustin Pittman of Malakoff works through the barrels during a benefit playday for Kerens High School student Kirby Jackson at Mabank’s Andrew Gibbs Rodeo Arena Saturday.