Local foundation continues fueling healthcare in city

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The early years of the 21st century were a tumultuous period for Laird Memorial Hospital – in time, the decade saw stable tenants put down roots in the Kilgore healthcare facility, and the city-owned buildings are home to thriving operations today.

Through it all, progress at the once-struggling hospital was aided by a nonprofit organization that shares the same namesake and a paired mission.

The Roy H. Laird Memorial Hospital Foundation, sole beneficiary of the Annie B. Laird Trust, continues to bolster healthcare efforts in the City of Kilgore, and its volunteer board is putting out a call for like-minded efforts, ready to portion out shares of about $200,000 in 2017.

“I think most people in the City of Kilgore probably don’t know the foundation exists,” treasurer Pam DeCeault said last week.

According to board president Tom Brown, “We’re kind of trying to educate folks as to who we are and why we’re here,” Brown agreed.

With about $10 million in the trust, the foundation’s mission is “to promote, foster, facilitate, and support the delivery of healthcare services to the indigent and general public in the City of Kilgore, Texas and its surrounding area, in the name of Roy H. Laird, deceased.”

The foundation was chartered in 1994, when the hospital was still a division of the City of Kilgore.

“The hospital had financial issues for years,” Brown recalled, “and we had a consultant come in and recommend that a foundation be brought in to assist in helping the hospital.

“That’s when the galas started. We would raise in excess of $100,000 or $150,000,” the funds used to cover specific needs such as ambulance or hospital beds.

Chartered as an auxiliary of the hospital, the foundation continued functioning as the hospital’s outlook went from bad to worse: as one last-ditch, life-saving effort and another failed to find a permanent fix.

Community Hospital Corporation’s 2003 effort to save the hospital bought a few more years – with support from the City of Kilgore, the foundation and others – until it sold its position in the hospital to Allegiance Health Management.

With the Laird Memorial Hospital moniker phasing out in April 2008, the trust was in jeopardy until a legal modification changed the beneficiary from the City of Kilgore to the hospital foundation, ensuring Annie B. Laird’s wishes would be respected.

“It’s money she donated for the operation of the Roy H. Laird Memorial Hospital to further healthcare in Kilgore,” Brown said. “The building, of course, is still owned by the city.”

The foundation’s board includes Brown, vice president Pat McCrory, DeCeault (as treasurer), secretary Evelyn Bolding, Sherry Bustin, Franco Cibele, Janie Dickerson, Janie Edmonds and Wilbur Yates. The commission members nominate appointees, and those nominees are vetted and voted on by Kilgore City Council members.

“The foundation was an integral part of Good Shepherd [now part of Christus] opening their emergency room here in Kilgore,” DeCeault said.

After loaning $675,000 for the development of the emergency department and asking interest-only for the first two years, the foundation is steadily writing off the remaining balance and interest.

“Part of our annual donation to satisfy the cause with which we are charged, to benefit healthcare,” DeCeault said, “is we agreed over a five-year period to forgive that debt if the emergency room would continue to stay open. We’re in the second year of that.”

The foundation made an additional $56,000 donation to the GSMC-ER in late-2013 (to cover new equipment) as well as a grant to help facilitate Kilgore College’s installation of its Health Science Center on the LMH property.

Allegiance is the primary tenant in the city-owned buildings, with sub-leases for the emergency department, the health science center and Community Healthcore.

“The other thing we do that most people don’t realize,” Brown said, “we agreed to pay all of the retirement obligations of the former city employees that worked for Laird Hospital.”

Initially about $90,000 annually, those costs now average between $50,000 and $60,000 per year.

The foundation also took on about $800,000 in outstanding bonds owed by the hospital: “We retired that indebtedness to the city,” DeCeault noted.

According to Brown, the foundation has had relatively little in the way of unobligated funds until this year. Part of the board’s vision to set the foundation up for the future, using some of its income to establish a permanent fund.

“Because so much of our asset base is oil and gas related, it’s depleting,” DeCeault said. “We’re trying to gradually change that.

“We feel a little better about giving something away this year.”

The board members have approved grant funds of up to $200,000 this year and are accepting online applications through LairdMemorial.org

“Those funds we give away are for the benefit of healthcare,” Yates said.

According to the foundation’s website, the operation “partners with local 501(c)(3) entities in Rusk and Gregg Counties within the City of Kilgore to support healthcare for all.”

Focus areas include medical rehabilitation, mental health, healthcare for the uninsured and under-insured, health screening, emergency health care, health-related education and similar unfunded, health-related projects.

The key takeaways, DeCeault said, are that grant beneficiaries will be nonprofits and they’ll directly benefit healthcare in this community.

“We take a narrow scope with that,” she added, “To fulfill the mandate that we were given when we became the beneficiary of the trust.”

The foundation’s grant process is online-only, processed by JPMorgan. A would-be beneficiary can begin the application process at LairdMemorial.org and will need the organization’s tax ID to access the grant application form from JPMorgan.

At the moment, the application deadline is in flux – the board anticipates a midsummer cut-off.

“It’s all through the website,” DeCeault repeated, and “We will consider those applications once they are all received and the grant period closes.”

The goal, Brown said, is for the nonprofit foundation to follow the rules of a for-profit charitable foundation which requires the organization give away five percent of its net assets each year.

“We’re also trying to make a perpetual fund that will always be here for the benefit of Kilgore and surrounding areas.”

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