Hospital to discuss cutting ties with managing company

Item file photoBoard members with the Walker County Hospital District are meeting early Monday morning to consider a resolution that would deliver a written termination letter to Huntsville Memorial Hospital's current management company, the Walker County Hospital Corporation. According to Paul Nathanson, senior principal with Bracewell, which provides communications support for the board, the hospital district soon may be searching for a new management team to run the operations at HMH. 

The Walker County Hospital District has moved a step closer to cutting ties with the current management group running the hospital.

The Board of Managers approved a motion by a vote of 3-1 during a special meeting Monday afternoon to send a written letter to Walker County Hospital Corporation, or Huntsville Memorial Hospital, officials to notify them that the district has intentions to terminate the current lease between the two entities because the hospital’s leadership staff has allegedly breached the existing contract. 

Anne Woodard, the hospital district chair, said Monday that HMH officials have 90 days to correct any violations, which have not been disclosed at this time, that have been made or a change will be made.

Woodard, and managers Judy Emmett and Dr. David Toronjo all voted in favor of sending the notice. Jerry Larrison opposed the motion and Dr. Curtis Montgomery abstained from voting Monday.

“We feel that the hospital corporation board has been very vocal in the last few days, in a good way, and wants to try and work a lot of things out,” Woodard said following the vote. “We are very willing to take the first step and step alongside them to work on things. We are committed. We are committed to this hospital.”

The hospital district also included in the notice to be sent to hospital management in the coming days that additional information concerning the hospital’s financial conditions be provided to the hospital district, which is part of the operating and lease agreements.

Woodard said the Board of Mangers has expressed “serious reservations” to the Walker County Hospital Corporation about the hospital’s operations, leadership abilities of the executive staff and the compliance with the lease and operating agreements for more than a year.

A special committee composed of members of the Huntsville Memorial Hospital Board of Directors and the Board of Managers, along with consultants for each side, had been working toward a solution concerning the future of the hospital.

The hospital district postponed a vote on a motion this past July which would have, if approved, given a 365-day notice to Huntsville Memorial Hospital officials that the district would terminate its current lease, which was signed in June 2013, with the hospital.

Woodard said nothing much has changed since the committee was formed.

“Since then, and despite repeated requests, the Corporation has provided the District with minimal information of any progress made by the hospital to get its house in order,” Woodard said in a written statement released after Monday’s meeting. “We appreciate that the Hospital’s Board Chair reached out to the District Chair after the posting of the Agenda for the District’s meeting of January 9, 2018. The District is committed to cooperating with the hospital in an effort to achieve the best interests of the citizens of Walker County.”

The statement also said the Board of Managers “hopes” that the committee can meet again before Jan. 23, where HMH officials will have the opportunity to provide the “requested information” and commit to the “level of transparency, accountability and cooperation that are fundamental to this process.”

Woodard said if the lease and operating agreements are terminated, a “competent operator” will be hired to keep the hospital open until an agreement with another health care provider to run HMH can be found.

“The District Board’s one and only goal is to ensure that the members of our community continue to receive high quality patient care and to ensure support for the outstanding doctors, nurses and allied health professionals at the hospital who provide this care,” Woodard’s statement said.

The Hospital District Board of Managers owns the hospital building, the land it sits on and numerous pieces of equipment the medical staff uses to treat patients. The district collects taxes from Walker County residents to fund the upkeep, renovations, purchases, acquisitions, repairs and improvement of its assets.

The hospital district has been trying to sell the hospital because the managers feel that by becoming part of a larger health care system it could provide the means to ensure adequate funding and resources to improve health care in Walker County.

The district had entered into a deal with Quorum Health in October 2016 to purchase the hospital but backed out this past April because of concerns over financial matters during the negotiation period and issues with the hospital’s current administration.

In other business Monday, the Board of Managers unanimously approved to place the old Huntsville Memorial Hospital facility (more recently known as the Ella Smither Geriatric Center) on Avenue O up for sale using a sealed bid process with a minimum set at $2 million. The building and the 6.324 acres it sits on will be sold “as is.”

The hospital district passed on taking any action on an agenda item concerning a second offer the City of Huntsville submitted to purchase the old hospital property after the sealed bid process was approved.

Cody Stark is the News Editor and covers Walker County, crime and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.