City council recap: More green for Memorial Hospital, property owners

Photo courtesy of Rubi Camacho

The city council members supported use of more funding for more nurses at Huntsville Memorial Hospital, proclaimed a holiday for a food bank and updated residential planting requirements at a meeting on Tuesday at Huntsville City Hall. 

CEO of Huntsville Memorial Hospital Patrick Shannon requested eight additional out-of-state nursing staff in response to COVID-19. Shannon spoke on requesting additional out-of-state nurses to help open an ICU area for COVID-19 patients.

“We would not be able to open this unit without these travelers,” Shannon said.

In this request, Shannon asked for $360,000 dollars in funds for the hospital from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and from Walker County to incentivize out-of-state nurses before spending it on local staff. Memorial hospital claims to have 30 out-of-state nurses and COVID patients are down from 46 to 28, but those numbers can still spike.

City Council member Vicki McKenzie opposed the funds and the sign on bonus of $20,000.

“If we offer a sign on bonus, even it was equal to what we were paying them, this is against the law, in my opinion,” McKenzie said. “You cannot say ‘I will save your life for $140 an hour.”

Mayor Andy Brauninger expressed a similar opinion in regard to the motion.

“I don’t like it,” Brauninger said, “I’m like Mrs. Vicki, I think it is almost illegal, like they are holding you up, but you have to run a hospital.” 

Brauninger and city council members support the use of the funds, with a contribution from the county, for 13 weeks. Beyond that time a second-round of voting will be needed.

He also read a proclamation that Sept. 21 will be now known as Trinity River Food Bank Day in Huntsville.

“Whereas Trinity River Food understands that hunger is just one indication of poverty and strive to identify and address each symptom with the hope they are empowering the community and changing lives,” Brauninger said.

Trinity River Food Bank, which was founded in 2014, opened a Walker County location as a small food pantry three years ago under the name of Covenant with Christ International.        

Trinity River Food Bank volunteers increased pounds of food provided to 700,000 pounds in Walker County since 2018 claimed Christine Shippey, founder and President of Trinity Food Bank Trinity River Food Bank is responsible for food distribution in Walker, Trinity, San Jacinto and Liberty counties with 21 partner locations in all.

Shippey then called up and recognized volunteers from the local Food Bank.

“We’re pleased to be a part of Huntsville and about this proclamation tonight,” Shippey said.

Lastly, the Landscape and Buffer ordinance adds residential planting requirements to have residents’ plant two trees on their property. There were a few residents that spoke about this matter in the meeting.

“Cities that help protect trees have seen a lot of helpful benefits, lower crime rates, lower incidents of mental health issues, like suicides, they see property values that run higher and the people that live in those communities report longer standing happiness,” arborist Brad Turner said.

Real estate broker owner Ben Bius says he loves trees but was against an infringement of property rights for a solution that may not work anyway.

“My problem is this is not the path you seek,” Bius said. “If you want to preserve trees you change the density of the development, not save a tree that is likely to die anyway if a bulldozer gets within five feet of it.”

City council members passed the amendment 5-4.

City council regular meetings are open to the public every first and third Tuesday of every month.

“I appreciate the citizens coming here and giving their input, it is vital to us,” Brauninger said.

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