By a 7-1 vote, the Sedalia City Council approved an ordinance Monday night authorizing Bothwell Regional Health Center to seek financing through an unsecured note with Central Bank for $5 million.

The reason for the loan is to help offset cash flow problems that resulted from the ongoing worldwide and deadly coronavirus pandemic, according to Chief Financial Officer Steve Davis.

Davis spoke to the Council remotely through GoToWebinar. Three Council members were located in the Municipal Building's upstairs conference room, some were participating from home, and the rest were in the Council Chambers downstairs. The public was invited to listen and watch the proceedings online from home as well.

Davis previously approached the Council March 23 to ask for approval from Council to borrow an $18 million line of credit from local banks to cover payroll. All members present for that meeting were in favor of the request. Councilmen Charles Lowe and Tollie Rowe were absent from that meeting.

On April 6, however, all Council members voted and the request for a $5 million loan was approved by a 7-1 vote, with Councilman Charles Lowe voting against it.

Davis said the loan would help Bothwell "stay ahead of the curve" and get the hospital through at least three payrolls. Payroll is paid out every two weeks, Davis explained to the Council.

Davis noted that the hospital has incurred extra expenses recently to the tune of $100,000 over the past two weeks to buy more personal protective equipment (PPE), in addition to conducting extra scrubbing of surfaces, and screening of incoming visitors at Bothwell, located at 601 E. 14th.

Davis also expects the hospital to receive a 180-day advance from Medicare. "We will have to pay that back, but it will help us get through this crisis," he said.

"We're pursuing every avenue we can," Davis told the Council, adding that the hospital, with the help of City Administrator Kelvin Shaw and Mayor John Kehde, have also contacted our senators and congresswoman to ask for financial help. Bothwell also applied for help through FEMA and was approved, Davis said.

"We're just trying to get this line of credit, to be there if we need it, for when we need it," Davis said.

Councilman Bob Cross urged that fellow Council members pass the ordinance. "It's important to pass this ordinance. Otherwise, we might as well shut the hospital down."

Councilwoman Megan Page asked Davis what steps were being taken to prevent the financial situation finds itself in, namely making payroll, which is the hospital's largest expense. Last Friday was Bothwell's most recent payday. "We're at the edge of the cliff," Page told Davis.

"This is basically unprecedented. As far as hospital business is concerned, we have had a rough two years," David responded. "Then we had the rug pulled out from under us," he told Page, referring to COVID-19.

"Steve, no disrespect, but it's been no secret that this hospital's been struggling for years. So we should never be at a point where $5 million dollars shuts a hospital down," Page told Davis.

"I don't want to get into politics, but when you look at all the hospital closures across the country, two-thirds of them were in states that didn't expand Medicaid," Davis responded.

"Right now, our current payroll is $2 million," Davis said, adding that some employees are being sent home early, and some are taking their benefits. "The government has said that we can hold off on paying the employer portion of FICA, and also the federal income tax portion."

The City-chartered Bothwell, which has been in operation since 1930, employs a staff of 834 employees and 100 physicians, according to BHRC's own website.