Friday, November 04, 2016

EDITORIAL >> North Metro still unstable

Distortion, lies, conspiracy, an ax to grind and putting patients’ lives in danger – all accusations made by Dr. Tracey Phillips, North Metro Medical Center’s chief medical officer, in a text to our reporter at 1 a.m. Thursday after this newspaper ran an article (“Hospital sued by doctor,” Nov. 2) about a recent lawsuit against the hospital.

Phillips is one of four defendants in the lawsuit filed by North Metro’s former Chief of Staff Dr. Marvin Ashford, a cardiologist who now works for St. Vincent’s Arkansas Heart Hospital in North Little Rock. The lawsuit claims North Metro didn’t follow its own written procedures in dealing with dismissals and suspensions of medical staff.

The lawsuit has nothing to do with patient care at the hospital, but highlights North Metro’s continuing turmoil with top administrators.

In the tired and emotional late-night text to Leader staff writer Rick Kron, Phillips’ said Kron had “not checked your sources and printed just plain bull*****.” He also threatened to sue our reporter.

The information in the article came from Dr. Ashford’s publicly available 13-page complaint filed with the lawsuit and was attributed to him. Is it possible that Ashford has a wrong or different take on the situation than Phillips, certainly?

Phillips and the other defendants — Dr. Renee Montgomery, Allegiance Health Management and Allegiance Hospital of North Little Rock, which is the name of the company operating North Metro — have 30 days from notice of the suit to respond to Ashford’s allegations.

Once those answers have been filed with the court, they will be publicly available and The Leader will publish an article rerpoting what the defendants have to say.

Will Dr. Ashford then fire off a double-screen text screaming that it’s all lies and he should sue the reporter? Unlikely.

Phillips apparently is upset because statements about Ashford being a “rogue physician” by the state medical board were not in the article. That statement was not in Ashford’s filings, but could be part of Phillips’ answer to the complaint, and then will be printed by this newspaper.

But what was also not in Ashford’s complaint was the allegations against Phillips that brought about the medical board hearing to begin with.

That information was not reprinted in Kron’s article about the lawsuit because they are not germane to Ashford’s case about bylaws not being followed.

But in order to explain how one member of the state medical board criticized Ashford’s letter recommending Phillips be non-renewed, this newspaper, in fairness, would have to revisit previous allegations against Phillips. This paper, because it doesn’t have an axe to grind and is not part of a conspiracy against the hospital (as Phillips claims) chose not to remind readers of those claims when the article went to press.

Our articles about the hospital over the past three years, which Phillips deems detrimental, have been mostly about the management and administration problems at the hospital, not the quality of patient care by its staff.

Dr. Phillips stated in his text that our reporter was sitting in the state medical board’s hearing where concerns about him were discussed and dismissed, but Ashford’s suit is not about Phillips, it is about procedures — procedures that someone at or connected with the hospital may have ignored.

Let’s ask the last three North Metro CEOs — Cindy Stafford, state Rep. Joe Farrer (R-Ark.) and Mike Randle — if administrative procedures have been properly followed in the past.

Farrer, afraid for patients’ safety, resigned last year after Allegiance executives overruled his firing of Phillips, who was accused of having alcohol on the job and other misconduct.

In Phillips’ late-night text, he did not mention that Randle, North Metro’s latest CEO, was recently let go, raising questions about who is in charge of the hospital now, and by extension, its long-term viability.

Phillips and the others should be less concerned about this procedural lawsuit and more about the money the hospital owes: More than $500,000 in taxes to the state, millions more to the IRS, and yet has money to run TV commercials boasting the high-quality of care it provides patients.

North Metro’s poor financial state, especially the back taxes it owes, will affect patient care in the long run, not newspaper articles.

Dr. Phillips ended his text by stating, “Congratulations you’ve done it again. Put people’s lives in danger!”

To the contrary, it is North Metro’s unstable administrative leadership and shadowy owners who appear to be driving the hospital to the brink.

The community deserves a first-rate hospital.