Perception key to public confidence

Published 9:37 am Friday, January 14, 2011

For many people, the perception of something becomes the reality, and oftentimes they don’t want to be bothered by the actual facts.

We fear that could be the case with the recent agreement by the Lawrence County Commissioners to essentially borrow $600,000 from St. Mary’s Medical Center as start up money for the county’s new ambulance service.

The motivation for the county was that St. Mary’s offered to help and was willing to lend the money at a significantly lower rate than local banks. The commissioners who ultimately approved it — Jason Stephens and Paul Herrell — argued that this was simply being good stewards of taxpayer dollars because it will ultimately save the county at least $6,000 in interest.

Email newsletter signup

Commissioner Les Boggs was against the arrangement because Boggs said he felt it was wrong to show what could be perceived as preferential treatment to one hospital over another.

Boggs has a valid point, the impact of which shouldn’t be underestimated.

Ultimately, it is important for citizens to believe in the ambulance service. The appearance or belief — even if it is false — that citizens may be directed toward a particular hospital could damage the public’s confidence.

The reality is that those using the ambulance service can ask to be transported to whichever hospital they choose, unless it is an emergency and then the closest facility is used. St. Mary’s will not have any influence over how the ambulance system operates.

But the perception may be that there is a conflict of interest and that the ambulance system will in some way be controlled by its proverbial debtholders, particularly St. Mary’s.

It isn’t too late for the county to correct this by borrowing the money from a local bank that had offered a rate approximately 1 percent higher than the St. Mary’s loan.

That move may cost the county several thousand dollars more but it is difficult to put a price tag on positive public perception.