CROCKETT, TX (KTRE) - Community members are growing anxious as time ticks down on the agreement between Little River Healthcare and the Houston County Medical Center.
Last year, the Central Texas-based company took over the management from the hospital after East Texas Medical Center pulled out of the facility. Seven months ago, the facility became a fully functioning member of the Little River community, but that will change by the end of Friday when the group pulls the affiliation.
"You know, a year ago, we thought this was taken care of for good and then this happens," said Westside Baptist Church Pastor Steve Meadows.
Meadows feelings where shared across town.
"It was devastating, and everybody was blindsided," Houston County Judge Jim Lovell said. "The first concern is the safety and welfare of our citizens always, but there is 176 employees that are going to be without a job with one weeks notice and that's going to be hard."
Lovell and others from the community as well as representatives for state and federal representatives attended a special meeting Friday afternoon with hospital leaders. Lovell hoped to get some answers, but he said he left the meeting with more concerns.
"Seems like it made my concerns more that there's not going to be a chance of anything happening," Lovell said. "We need a miracle."
Outside of the hospital entrance around noon on Monday, a large crowd gathered. Many of them were pastors and hospital employees. They circled the front entrance and held hands in prayer. The event was put on by the Crockett Ministerial Alliance.
"Most of the people here, we are on first name basis," said Harvest Church Pastor Dennis Ivy. "We know them. We know their families. We watch out for their children on a daily basis."
The group is planning prayer vigils all week at noon outside the front of the hospital. The ministers are also encouraging people to come out to the public meeting of the hospital board on Tuesday night at 5:30 p.m.
In a previous story, Little River CLO Ryan Downton said it was an uphill battle to keep the facility running the past six months.
"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.
Little River said they are owed $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.
East Texas News reached out to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas for comment last Friday, and the company sent a statement.
The county's EMS and air ambulance service are run independently. Both companies confirmed that the services will still be offered despite the hospital closing.
"It is tough," said Houston County EMS Chief Heath Bumphous said. "We were told just before everyone else. It's still business as usual for us. We are going to take our patients to the closest facility, whether that is in Houston County, or if we need to go elsewhere, we will. We are very fortunate we have good working relationships with all of our local hospitals, and everything will still be business as usual for us."
Residents in the tiny town say they are now praying and waiting.
"Unless that miracle happens, Friday is the last day that this will be open," Meadows said.