Future for clinic up for debate as construction continues

The Herington City Commission held a special meeting on Friday night with only one item on the agenda. The meeting was called to have a discussion with Herington Hospital Board Members and staff, regarding whether or not the hospital could legally operate the Hillsboro Healthcare Clinic which has been open since July 2019.

The topic was brought to the commission in a meeting on Tuesday, Dec 1, in a letter written by Herington citizen Robert Danzman. The entire letter can be heard on the recording of the Dec. 1 meeting on the City of Herington Commission’s YouTube channel. An additional letter of concern was read at the Dec. 11 meeting.

“It appears the administration of Herington Hospital may have improperly modified or expanded its operations—that is purchasing and renovating commercial property in Hillsboro, Kansas. Such activity appears to be in violation of Kansas law governing city and county-owned hospitals,” the letter stated.

The author including several state statutes that he believed had been violated, including not having the requisite public hearings take place before the community-owned hospital expanded outside of its coverage area. He asked that the commission make sure the Herington Hospital and their Hillsboro clinic be investigated and that all activity at the clinic be stopped until further investigation has been completed.

The letter also suggested that Herington Hospital used funds allocated for COVID-19 relief to finance the clinic and to furnish a $100,000 donation to the City of Hillsboro for the construction of a splash pad, which the author believed to be a violation of the CARES act.

“If the federal government demanded repayment of those funds, the City of Herington could and would be liable as the owner of Herington Community (SIC) Hospital,” the letter stated.

The letter again asked that the clinic be stopped, plans for a new pharmacy run by the Herington Hospital and a new building for the hospital paused and asked for full documentation of all activities.

After the letter was read at the special meeting, the commissioners heard from staff at the hospital, including CFO Bryan Coffey and CEO Isabel Schmedmann. They learned that the hospital had previously had clinics out of their county in both Lincolnville and Tampa, although this was before the current administration’s employment, so not much was known about them.

“Why is this suddenly an issue with the Hillsboro clinic?” Schmedmann asked.

Both Coffey and the hospital’s lawyer, AndyRamirez, explained that there is a system set in place to monitor all of the spending of any COVID-19 funds, making it very difficult to spend the money incorrectly.

“While the guidelines are constantly changing regarding COVID-19 funds, there is a solid system of checks and balances in place to ensure accountability and that the money is used accurately,” Ramirez said.

The hospital staff explained that the clinic serves a need and brings in hundreds of patients to the hospital.

However, when asked how many patients they are seeing at the clinic, Coffey replied that they had anywhere from six to 10 patients each day.

After about an hour of discussion, the Herington City Commission recessed into executive session for consultation with Attorney Brad Jantz on matters that would be deemed privileged in the attorney-client relationship exception, K.S.A. 75-4319(b)(2), in order to discuss potential litigation.

The commission returned to the meeting and voted unanimously to move forward with creating a charter ordinance to allow for Herington Hospital to continue operating the Hillsboro Healthcare Clinic.

“We opened the clinic in Hillsboro to answer a call from patients in Hillsboro who were upset and disappointed that Dr. Erb wouldn’t be practicing there any longer, and we saw it as a way to support the Hillsboro community. Herington has a history of outreach clinics in surrounding communities such as Lincolnville and Tampa, and with the Hillsboro outreach, it was realized there was a procedural oversight,” Schmedemann said on Monday.“We had our meeting with the Herington City Commission to remedy that situation, and we are proud that they unanimously voted to move forward to correct this oversight.”

There will be a 60-day protest period once the charter ordinance is approved and published.