As you know, the 87th General Assembly passed a tax increase estimated to exceed $80 million on the tobacco users of Arkansas. This tax increase is going to provide the $25 million needed to fund the trauma system and will hopefully save around 200 lives a year. But there are also other health programs that were to get the critical funding they needed, such as in-home care for our seniors and providing the necessary money to keep nine Community Health Centers open in areas that will have no healthcare without them.
I voted against the tax because I did not agree with raising taxes in the midst of a national recession (especially one with a declining revenue source), and I ultimately voted against the subsequent trauma system bill because I never received a good answer on what the long-term costs would be, and I think that's bad business. To that end, I didn't think asking for a three to five year pro forma on the trauma system was too much to ask. Some level-one trauma centers in Memphis claimed massive losses each year from treating Arkansans. Will these losses not now be incurred in Arkansas?
So what's the point? It's a done deal and we are all tired of discussing it, right? Well, not so fast.
It is my understanding that up until this point, Community Health Centers have operated solely on federal funds, and that the State of Arkansas has very little, if any, oversight authority over them.
Thanks to a March article in the Arkansas Times, readers were made aware of the, I guess you could say, “out-of-line,” administrative expenses of the Lee County clinic. In a county where the median household income is around $25,000, in recent years the chief executive officer pulled down $273,650; the human resources manager received $149,944; and, not to be outdone, the “maintenance supervisor” made a whopping $119,068 — now that has to be a record.
In all fairness I understand that the new interim director of the Lee County clinic has made many positive changes, which include reducing salaries and paying back past-due loans. That's a positive start.
Question I: Would the Lee County shenanigans have taken place if the State of Arkansas had some oversight? I would hope the answer is no.
Question II: If the State of Arkansas is going to give Community Health Centers $15 million of taxpayer money each year, shouldn't they be accountable to the citizens of Arkansas? I know the answer is yes.
I understand that representatives from the Community Health Centers of Arkansas Inc. will soon be meeting with officials from the state Health Department, and that while Dr. Paul Halverson is open to some state oversight, he may have some reservations about duplicating “an onerous oversight” system. What oversight system?!! I am normally hesitant about growing state government, but here, because we have already appropriated state funds, and because we now have skin in the game, we better make darn sure that history doesn't repeat itself.
Suggestion to Dr. Halverson: Hold the centers accountable.
Davy Carter of Cabot is a Republican and District 48 representative in the state House of Representatives. He is filling in this week for Max Brantley, who is on vacation.