State of hospital uncertain with unpaid bills, insurance woes

The financial issues at Hillsboro Community Hospital continue to be a concern for not only hospital employees but for the Hillsboro City Council and administration. An emergency city meeting was called on Thursday, Dec. 27, to discuss the almost $29,000 the hospital owes for utilities. And

internal memos within the hospital are also shedding light on the issues.

On Dec. 18, the Hillsboro City Council met in executive session during their weekly meeting to discuss the hospital situation. This led them to hold the special meeting to discuss the Hillsboro Community Hospital utility bill.

According to a letter sent by City Attorney Joshua Boehm to Health Acquisition Company, which is connected to EmpowerHMS, the corporation that currently owns Hillsboro Community Hospital, the hospital is delinquent on utility bills owed to the City of Hillsboro.

The letter also states that a Bank of America check dated on Dec. 6, tendered for payment of the October utilities bills, was returned for non-sufficient funds. It also listed that the November utilities were past due.

“A letter that Josh [Boehm] sent out to the hospital reflects the fact that the $10,000 check returned to us as well as the current billing,” said City Administrator Larry Paine in the meeting. “Josh sent out the letter, demanding that the amount owed be paid immediately, and failure to do so by 4 p.m. on Dec. 27 will result in the termination and disconnection of all utility services.”

However, it does not appear that the letter was actually delivered to the corporation, according to a tracking slip.

“I have been in touch with UPS, and they are trying to see if there are any driver’s notes or anything like that,” Boehm said. “But it was reported that that business is no longer at the address, is what UPS is reporting.”

The exact numbers are now even higher than the original letter stated. Paine went over each of the charges.

“A check for a total utilities came back to us with a note relating to insufficient funds in the neighborhood of $10,250. And then we’ve got a billing that’s out there right now, the November billing, that is almost $8,300, and because it is past due now, it has another almost $830 worth of penalties added. Those two are $9,115. Then we’ve got a bill going out this week for about $9,300. So for a total of about $28,645,” Paine said.

After explaining what all is owed, Paine suggested what should happen next.

“I am going to recommend that we continue to monitor this account until we get to Jan. 2 and see where we are at and not necessarily exercise our right to turn off the utilities today,” Paine said during the meeting.

“There is some question as far as who has notice and who has gotten this regarding our termination with the bounced check. We very clearly have a right to terminate on the unpaid October bill and that bounced payment, but because of the nature of this type of business and because of the question regarding notice related to that payment, we need to continue to attempt to provide notice in a number of mediums to monitor,” Boehm said.

“The calls I have made have gone unanswered with the guy we are to talk to,” Mayor Lou Thurston said.

Paine further clarified the situation.

“There are actually two things we are trying to deal with at the same time. One is the billing with the insufficient funds and then the billing of the few months of November and December,” he said.

The council agreed, but they also expressed concerns.

“I’m not comfortable taking any action until we get to next week,” Thurston said.

“We aren’t the only ones having a problem, it looks like,” Council Member Byron McCarty said. “Is that not considered a felony anymore for insufficient funds? I want to try to help the local hospital, and we should wait and see what happens on the 4th, and if it doesn’t happen, we really need to do something or it is only going to get worse. I don’t blame the people at the hospital. They have nothing to do with that.”

“It’s one of those situations where you are darned if you do and darned if you don’t,” Thurston said. “There are a lot of implications beyond just these bills that we have to have consideration for.”

Before closing, Council Member Jonah Gehring asked, “Do we have any information from their lenders? Have they indicated one way or the other?”

“We don’t have sufficient information to make any decisions by today,” Paine said.

The meeting was adjourned.

News from inside the hospital

Payroll continues to be a concern for the employees. Employees did receive their most recent paycheck on time.

Olivia Robinson, who is the human resources contact, made a statement about the payroll issues on Friday.

“As far as I can tell you [about] our payroll, we had a couple of discrepancies, but they have a plan in place so that this doesn’t happen again. I haven’t heard that we are not getting paid or anything like that,” Robinson said.

Robinson wasn’t able to speak to what the plan will be.

“I have heard rumblings, but I have not heard anything set in stone, so I will not say anything to that since I’m not sure,” she said.

An internal memo to hospital employees from Robinson has been circulating, saying that there are issues with employee’s medical insurance, specifically getting prescriptions filled at the local pharmacy due to policy numbers no longer existing.

The memo acknowledges that there is a dispute with the insurance and EmpowerHMS management. It instructs employees to ask the pharmacy if there are any other discounts they can get and to keep track of receipts so they can get money back for their prescriptions once the dispute is resolved.

“As far as insurance is concerned, I cannot comment on that,” Robinson said in an interview. “I don’t know a lot about what is going on right now. So right now everybody in the hospital is waiting to hear from corporate as far as a decision, and then we’ll know more after that. I don’t know when that will be.”

One internal memo mentioned that the Bank of Hays has been out to the facility to meet with people and check in on the situation. The bank provided the $9.7 million loan to finance the hospital in 2017.

Robinson did not give information on the Bank of Hays coming out when she was interviewed.

“I can’t speak to that. I was not privy to when they were here. I was not here those days so I don’t have a whole lot of information with that,” Robinson said.

Hospital troubles and what it means for Hillsboro

Anthony Roy, Hillsboro Economic Development Director, emphasized the importance of the hospital and stated that it would be a huge economic loss if the hospital were to close.

“You’ve got a lot of high-paid jobs out there,” he said. “I don’t know specifically how many employees they have now. I would say probably between 60 and 70, with a good majority of those being above average to well above average. Most likely what would happen is we would have some type of private practice clinic formed—whether that is with the current providers we have now or if some different providers come in or if another hospital comes in and sets up a clinic here.”

Thurston made further comments in an interview on Friday.

“I guess I would start with taking it a few steps back in terms of the City of Hillsboro’s commitment to health care in Hillsboro and the support that was given to the hospital when it was down at the end of Main Street a couple of owners ago,” he said. “The city has stepped up more than once to ensure that in Hillsboro we have a hospital and that we have quality health care for the people of Hillsboro. That’s been a longstanding commitment, and that commitment hasn’t changed. In that sense, what does it mean to Hillsboro? Obviously, having a hospital is important, and we recognize that. We are just very thankful we have such good quality providers and staff at the hospital.”

Paine added his thoughts, as well as his support for the people of the hospital, in an interview.

“We have to wait,” he said. “We are fully supportive of the hospital here in Hillsboro, and we understand the difficulty that the employees are in at this point.”

The city utilities are not all that HCH owes.

“What I can say is that the City of Hillsboro is a landlord to the hospital in a sense that the city of Hillsboro owns the land, the parking structure and provided all the electrical, water, sewer and utilities to the facility and that was secured through a $1.2 million bond issue that we get payments from the hospital to reimburse the city so that we can make the bond payments,” Thurston said.

Thurston also couldn’t remark on plans for the future.

“That’s just something that I can’t speak to. I would have to say no comment and direct people to Mr. Boehm, the city attorney,” Thurston said. “We recognize the importance of this hospital. Our historical track record speaks for itself. There is a strong concern on the part of the city.”

“We’re concerned about the hospital, and if we just turn the electricity off, it would be bad for everybody. So we wait,” Paine said. “We just have to be patient. What needs to be done will take time. The company needs to have the time to make things right. We’re just trying to make sure that people here in town know that we know about what’s going on and we are caring about them. There’s not an awful lot that we can do at the moment. But when the time is right, we hope that things will turn out for the best.”

Jessi Workman is the highest level administrator currently at the hospital, since no interim CEO has been on site and former CEO Marion Regier retired in November.

Workman offered words on the current state of the hospital.

“The hospital is open and providing all the services we have always provided,” Workman said. “There is no current intention to stop any services. All the staff at the hospital is grateful for the continued support of the community, the City of Hillsboro and surrounding areas. There have been many kind and encouraging words said to the hospital staff and around town, which has been a blessing. We are continuing to work hard every day to provide great care to our patients and our community.”