Weems Memorial

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Rural health care in the panhandle continues to take a hit. George E. Weems Memorial Hospital in Apalachicola has been fighting to remain open after financial trouble nearly forced the previous owners to shut down late last year.

Now it’s a shortage of staffing that's threatening the future of the hospital.

George E. Weems Memorial Hospital in Franklin County employs about 65 people that were once of employees of "Dassee Health Management," before financial trouble forced them to turn the hospital over to the county.

The county then leased the hospital to tri-state leasing. Through all those changes, there's been one constant at George E. Weems, none of the employees have any benefits.

Noah Lockley, Franklin County Commissioner, said, "It's bad when you work at a hospital and you don't have hospitalization."

Franklin County commissioners briefly addressed the issue at a Wednesday morning meeting, then tabled it for a closed door afternoon session.

Franklin County has already put out $2.4 million of its own money since January just to keep Weems Memorial open. They haven't missed a payroll, but employees have apparently had enough of working without a benefits package.

Alan Pierce, Director of Admin. Services, said, "There's not been retirement benefits. There's not been health insurance. There's been some other benefits that have been lacking, so some of the employees are getting sort of tired of that arrangement and have sought other jobs."

To make matters worse, the hospital hasn't been a big money maker. The previous management company left debts, and Medicare and Medicaid won't make any payments until the old debt is cleared up. That could mean the difference, providing employee benefits or not, the difference between keeping or loosing employees.

Franklin County officials estimate a retirement and health benefits package for the hospitals employees will cost an estimated $30,000 a month.