Wednesday, September 16, 2015

TOP STORY >> Hospital exodus goes on

Leader staff writer

Embarrassing is how one departing employee describes the situation at North Metro Medical Center as resignations continue at the hospital over the reinstatement of a doctor with an alleged drinking problem.

Last week, it was state Rep. Joe Farrer (R-Austin), the interim CEO, and Deb Bostic, the chief nursing office.

This week, Karen Ward, the CEO’s executive secretary, and Karen Wade, the executive secretary for the chief nursing officer, resigned. Wade was also in charge of verifying medical credentials.

Ward, who has worked for six different CEOs in the past seven-and-a-half years, said she simply couldn’t live with the decisions being made by Allegiance. “It just wasn’t right to ask a man (Farrer) who had given his heart and soul to make the hospital better to keep that doctor,” she said.

Ward is embarrassed about the situation.

So, with Farrer and others out, who is in charge?

According to Scott Prothy, vice president of acute care services for Allegiance Health Management, the designated head is Mike Randle, the chief financial officer who has been with the hospital for less than a year.

But Randle did not return phone calls to verify that. Hospital operators weren’t sure and gave a message to Jane Rockwell, the human resources director. Rockwell said they have no CEO yet, but that Randle would probably be the one in charge.

Allegiance Health Management of Shreveport, La., operates the hospital for the owners, Rock Bordelon and Don Cameron, the company’s principal officers. Calls to Allegiance’s executive leadership team number were transferred to an assistant, who said no one there knew who the new CEO was, except for Bordelon, and he was not available. But two messages were sent to him, asking who was in charge.

Legally, the hospital doesn’t have to have a CEO, but it does have to have someone designated as the head or responsible party.

The resignations are the result of Bordelon and Cameron reinstating a doctor whom Farrer had asked to resign because of an alleged drinking problem and other misconduct. The doctor, Tracy Phillips, gave Farrer a resignation letter, but hospital owners rejected it and reinstated him.

Ward, who worked at the hospital 28 years, said she’ll remember the good years. “This was a thriving hospital. Sure, we fought battles, but always came through. I was always proud,” she said. “I’m just not proud of the hospital anymore. It’s not the people, but the out-of-state management.”

Ward said that leaving was one of the hardest decisions she ever made. “We are family. We’ve cried together, celebrated together. We’ve come to love each other.”

According to Kevin O’Dwyer, an attorney for the state medical board, there is an investigation into the matter. He said it is a lengthy process and the details should be given to the medical board by December for any possible actions.

North Metro has had issues ever since Allegiance Health Management took over combined ownership and operation of the hospital about three years ago from the city. There have been unpaid and delinquent water and electric bills, missing health insurance payments for its staff, thousands of dollars owed in backpay to emergency-room doctors and Cornerstone Hospital, an acute-care provider, which leased about 60,000 square feet of space from the hospital but elected to move out of the hospital building and city back in March.

Mayor Gary Fletcher said Monday that the hospital is staffed by very good people, and he was concerned by the recent events. “No matter what happens, we’ll take care of our residents,” the mayor said.

In a related issue, it has been almost two years since a plan was announced to build a $20 million medical complex near the North Metro. Construction had been expected to start this summer.

“But we are probably still two to three months away. It is something that we want done right, something Jacksonville will be proud of for decades to come,” Fletcher said.

He added that the medical complex is not a replacement for the hospital, but will complement it.

“But when you are dealing with doctors, developers, property owners and various health agencies, it’s not easy to get everything together to move forward,” Fletcher explained.