Zachary-area voters rejected a 10-year property tax that would have benefited the Lane Regional Medical Center, spurning the hospital's request that taxpayers help restore money lost in the local fight against the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.

The 60-year-old hospital had never sought public assistance before Saturday's election. While it recently received a major federal loan — $61 million to help it improve its facilities — it wanted residents to contribute $5.4 million annually over the next decade.

The effort failed miserably, losing by a 2-1 margin.

"The hospital has no plans to bring the tax proposition forward again in the future," said Julie McLin, the hospital's director of marketing and physician recruitment. "Of course, we're very disappointed it didn't pass."

The 20-mill property tax would have cost the owner of a $175,000 home about $200 a year. While there was no organized opposition to the proposal, some had said in social media channels that they didn't want their taxes to go up.

The hospital had said before the election it would try to maintain an appropriate service level if the tax failed. There is no plan to discontinue services.

On its website, before the election, Lane said its pandemic-related expenses had been greater than its revenue. Lane's revenue comes from charges for services to patients and from private and public insurance payments.

"The current COVID-19 pandemic reduced these revenue streams by more than 40% overall while increasing expenses related to COVID-19 patient care," the hospital said previously. The information page was gone Monday afternoon. 

Since the pandemic began in March, Lane had for a time stopped elective procedures and surgeries, created separate areas for COVID-19 patients in its emergency room and outpatient clinics and created separate operating rooms for patients with the virus.

If the property tax effort had been successful, the hospital planned to add staff to care for COVID-19 patients and lower patient-to-nurse ratios for those patients; recruit physicians and specialists to "ensure access to even care" during such health crises and stock emergency levels of personal protection equipment.  

The hospital said before the election that if the tax proposal failed it would be "doing everything possible to protect jobs by flexing/reducing hours, combining positions, and re-negotiating contracts."

"Our goal is to maintain the current level of healthcare without eliminating service lines, areas of care, or jobs," the hospital said.

Monday, McLin said, "We're going to utilize existing funds the best we can, to make the improvements. We're just moving forward."

Last month, the hospital landed a $61 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to renovate 37,000 square feet of the hospital and build a new, four-story medical tower, with its groundbreaking expected in the spring of 2022.

The tower will house acute patient care rooms and surgical and intensive-care units, as well as a larger operating suite.

The loan was one of more than 250 made by the USDA in an effort to invest a total of $871 million nationwide into community facilities that include libraries and schools, as well as medical centers, in rural areas.

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