Gulf County is moving forward with their plan to open a new kidney dialysis center on the campus of Ascension Sacred Heart despite Franklin County’s objection to assisting with the bill.
In a Feb. 10 special meeting, Jim McKnight, director of the Gulf County Economic Development Coalition, told commissioners that he was nearing a finalized agreement with Fresenius Medical Center of North America, the nation’s largest dialysis provider. When that agreement is reached, Gulf County commissioners unanimously voted to have Chairman Sandy Quinn sign it.
The agreement specifies the conditions of a $100,000 subsidy that will be paid out by the county to Fresenius annually for the next five years.
The half-million dollars, paid for out of Gulf County’s health care trust fund, would offset start-up costs and other expenses at the facility, including the lease of space in the building, which is owned by a private entity, separate from Ascension.
“I just want to thank this board for stepping up to the plate in this situation,” said Chairman of the Board Sandy Quinn in the meeting. “We definitely need this dialysis center, so I thank every one of you for your vote to support it.”
Initially, Gulf County commissioners requested that Franklin County assist with its percentage of patients served by the center, with a ceiling of $25,000 of this $100,000 annual commitment.
Last month, Franklin County commissioners asked the Weems Hospital Board to provide a recommendation on whether to take Gulf County up on the proposal. Earlier this month, the Weems board unanimously voted to recommend against assisting Gulf County with the subsidy, expressing concerns about the legality of spending funds outside of their county.
Instead board members said that they would attempt to bring in a mobile unit to provide the dialysis services.
Gulf County officials expressed that while they were moving forward with the agreement with Fresenius, they were disappointed by Franklin County’s hesitancy to participate.
“Gulf County is willing to take it alone. We made a commitment,” said Commissioner for District Two Ward McDaniel. “I’m not going to have a Gulf County person sent to Bay County when someone from Franklin County is occupying a seat down here.”
County Administrator Michael Hammond echoed McDaniel’s frustration at the end of the meeting, after commissioners had voted to sign the future agreement.
“Just being blunt, we tried to team with Franklin County on the airport about 10 years ago. We got slapped in the face,” said Hammond. “We tried to team with Franklin County on the oysters… and we got slapped in the face. We tried to team with Franklin County with Triumph on the floating dry dock with them participating. We got slapped in the face.”
“I’m about ready to stop trying.”
McKnight expressed that while Franklin County had been “reluctant” to participate in the agreement with Fresenius, he was hopeful that at the end of the year, more concrete data could help reopen discussions.
“At the end of the year, part of our agreement here is that they will provide us with how many people from their area use the facility,” he said. “And we’re not going to get them to agree with that right now, but I really believe at the end of the year they’ll reimburse us that amount.”
McKnight has been working to secure a dialysis provider since March 2021, when DaVita Kidney Care, the nation’s other dominant dialysis provider, shuttered their facility at the same location following the loss of DaVita’s contract with Blue Cross/Blue Shield.
McKnight told the Star he expects the finalized agreement to be reached within the next couple of weeks.