CROCKETT, TX (KTRE) - Little River Healthcare has announced that it will be ending its affiliation with the Houston County Hospital District at the end of June.
If no other healthcare provider takes over operation of the hospital, it could wind up shutting down. Approximately 200 employees could be affected by Little River Healthcare's decision.
"We came into Crockett about a year ago, and at that time, the hospital was in severe financial distress," said Ryan Downton, Little River Healthcare's co-owner and chief legal officer. "We saw a real opportunity to turn it around. We knew we were going to be funding losses to the tune of millions of dollars for a period of time."
Downton said they were willing to take that risk because of the potential to turn the hospital around.
East Texas News reached out to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas for comment Wednesday, and the company sent a statement.
"Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas has been working diligently to resolve this issue with Little River Healthcare," James Campbell, a spokesman for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas. "We are committed to providing our members access to cost-effective, quality health care and always have their best interest in mind. In this regard, we are obligated to pay our providers based upon information that accurately reflects services provided. Because this is an open investigation, we cannot comment further."
"We were notified yesterday morning of this," said Deborah Blackwell, the president of the Houston County Hospital District Board. "We are in just as much shock as everyone else. We had no idea this was coming.'
The Houston County Hospital District Board will have a special called executive session to discuss the matter at 5:30 p.m. Monday, June, 26. On Tuesday, the hospital district's regular meeting in the HCH board room will also be at 5:30 p.m. That meeting will be open to the public.
Downton said the hospital faced challenges when they took over its operation.
"When people get used to going somewhere for healthcare, it is hard to get them to change and people have started leaving Crockett for healthcare," Downton said. "The growth in patient population was not happening fast enough for profitability. We knew it would be an uphill climb. Unfortunately, we have gotten into a dispute with Blue Cross and Blue Shield where they aren't paying us to our contracts at other locations."
Downton said the matter with Blue Cross and Blue Shield is a company-wide issue. He added they aren't paying their contracts at other locations.
The Houston County Hospital's claims include $32 million in accounts receivable from Blue Cross, Downton said. He said that was for services that are more than two months old. Much of that $32 million is more than seven months old, Downton said.
"They are requesting medical records on all these claims before they will pay them," Downton said. "We submitted 1,800 medical records in May, and only processed 108 two months later. We have essentially been providing services to Blue Cross patients for free."
Downton said the current political climate may have had an affect on their current situation.
"People on some level have just decided that rural healthcare is not that important and that people can be forced to drive to a hospital," Downton said. "We think it is a problem that is going to keep getting worse unless someone steps into fix it."
Downton added that local representatives are being helpful in the fight to provide health care for rural areas. Downton said that the clinic in Groveton will remain open under independent management. The Crockett clinic will do the same.
Little River came announced the name change of the hospital in October 2016. East Texas Medical Center previously ran the hospital but pulled out in May of 2015.