August 27, 2006
Reported By: Lee Peck
Rickey Miller has been an employee of South Cameron Memorial Hospital for 21 years. Destroyed during Hurricane Rita, the facility had to be demolished. "This is the 10th trip I've made out here and each time I come back I just can't believe the hospital is gone. It's hard to imagine after working here all of your life," said Miller.
Aside from ambulance service, the residents living and working in lower Cameron Parish have no emergency healthcare services. "It is at least an hours drive from the east end of Grand Chenier, but down in Cameron it's more like an one hour and 15 minutes to get to the nearest hospital," said Cameron Parish Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Jones.
"Which literally means the difference between life and death. That is what we're talking about here," said Lower Cameron Hospital District Board Member Leslie Trahan. "We're not talking about people who have a cold and need to go the hospital, we're talking about life emergencies."
This Saturday residents have the option to pass a 10 year 20-mills property tax to cover operating and maintenance costs for a new hospital. "Until we can build back up until we can repopulate our parish, then we're going to need extra money," said Lower Cameron Hospital District Secretary Treasurer Greg Fawvor.
What does this mean for homeowners? -- Under the Homestead Exemption, homes under 75-thousand dollars or less will pay no additional taxes, while homes valued at 100-thousand dollars will pay approximately 50 dollars per year for access to 24-hour healthcare.
FEMA and the Louisiana Recovery Authority have agreed to pay the $18.7 million it will take to rebuild South Cameron Memorial Hospital. However, all the money is contingent on if the operating tax passes.
The proposed plan would rebuild the hospital on the same property. Once operational it will offer a variety of services. "We'll have pharmacy, we'll have dental, we'll have 24-hour emergency room services, 24-hour lab, 24-hour x-ray, we'll also have doctors on site for 24 hours a day. It's just vital to the recovery of our community," said Fawvor.
The hospital will have 25 beds for acute, emergency and long-term nursing care. Prior to the Hurricane Rita, the hospital was the second largest employer in Cameron Parish, second to the Cameron Parish School Board. The payroll from the hospital helped the local economy by providing necessary income to families in order to establish their homes and way of life.
"Our community has already lost so much from the hurricane and I don't think this is something that we're willing to give up," said Trahan.
Those voting on the tax will be residents of Cameron, Grand Chenier, Little Chenier, and Oak Grove. If they pass it, the current 3.66 mills tax approved in 2000 will be canceled. Polls will open Saturday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.