Friday, May 20, 2011

A blessing, the fracking debate and the experts among us

I’m not sure you could officially classify it as a miracle, but the fact that Franciscan Services Corp. emerged as the owner of Twin City Hospital at Dennison is at least a blessing for the folks in and around the communities of Dennison and Uhrichsville.

They get to keep their hospital.

In these difficult times and with less-than-desirable health care demographics, Twin City Hospital defied the odds. In many people’s minds – especially those connected with our larger regional health care facilities -- it was destined to die.

Back in October, I wrote on my blog, “The only thing that surprises me about the Twin City Hospital Chapter 11 bankruptcy is that it didn't come much sooner than this.

“It was apparent for a long time that the hospital could not pay its bills. In late spring, it owed $1 million to the physician group that staffed the emergency room.

“The biggest problem TCH faces is that it operates in an impoverished area with a large percentage of Medicaid patients. My bet is that the hospital emerges from bankruptcy eventually but not without a controlling partner.”

Well, God must have been smiling at the Twin Cities because Franciscan Services, an arm of the Sisters of St. Francis, aims to serve those in need. Providing health care is a “ministry,” according to its mission statement, and presumably not a profit center.

In other words, maybe the good sisters can afford to lose a little money.

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Quietly, it seems, landowners in and around Tuscarawas County are making lucrative deals with energy companies that want to explore the deeper formations for oil and natural gas by hydraulic fracturing, a process more commonly called “fracking.”

As it is with most drilling and mining endeavors, there are supporters, who applaud the economic benefits, and detractors, who worry about the environment, including whether the process will contaminate drinking water.

Some area landowners, I’m told, are seeing immediate windfalls of money after signing away the fracking rights to their properties.

“It’s more money than some of these people have ever seen,” a friend told me.

USA Today reported a few weeks ago that fracking has become so controversial that it has turned neighbors against neighbors in towns across the country.

One man returned home from church on Sunday and found plastic money affixed to his fence, an obvious message of disapproval by neighbors concerned about – or perhaps jealous of -- his fracking deal.

In our area, landowners are getting hundreds of dollars per acre from Chesapeake Energy or its agents for five- or 10-year leases. Many of them are using the Internet -- -- to discuss potential deals and compare notes.

Local reporting on the issue seems to be lacking. Maybe one reason is because reporters no longer stop into county recorders’ offices, where such leases are recorded, and instead are putting together pieces such as “Today’s Meaningless List” or “Today’s Number to Know.” I think they call that “content.”

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When it comes to local schools, there is no absence of experts. In fact, everyone is an expert. That’s because everyone has experienced the process except for those who were home-schooled right into college. (And that’s a whole different issue.)

Has anyone ever told you that a certain school has too many administrators? Sure, they have. They know. Because they went to that school 50 years ago they have an uncanny ability to analyze staffing, budget and facility upkeep.

Many of Dover’s “experts” have told me what the Board of Education can do with its plan to replace the aging and decrepit Dover High. You can imagine. It’s not pretty.

I plead for folks to keep an open mind about this and wait for a citizens’ panel’s report, because a community is only as good as its schools. And if you don’t believe me, ask a real estate agent.

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You can also access this column on the Bargain Hunter's website. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter (dfarrell_dover). Leave comments in any number of different places. If you leave one at the Bargain Hunter they will understand better how valuable I am.

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