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City, county, hospital officials still keeping UMMC proposal top secret; county supervisors very upset about possible adverse terms of the deal

Thursday, October 27, 2022, 10:37 pm News Flash Archive

With Greenwood Leflore Hospital apparently taking its last gasps, city, county, and hospital officials still stubbornly refuse to provide transparency and openness to citizens and journalists about the lease proposal submitted by UMMC.

The Taxpayers Channel filed formal public records requests for the UMMC documents on September 12, 2022 to the city of Greenwood, Leflore County, GLH, and UMMC.

In violation of state public records law, Leflore County has failed to either provide the records or deny them to us. Chancery Clerk Johnny Gary acknowledged receipt of our request, but 45 days later, the county has not provided an answer to our request. State law mandates that the records be produced or denied within 7 business days.

City of Greenwood's public records officer, city clerk Linda Osbourn, at first told us that "we do not have a copy of the UMMC proposal to lease the hospital."

But Mayor Carolyn McAdams provided a different response: "I am being told by the attorneys that it is not yet a public record. The attorneys representing the RFP, Don Brock and Tom Flanagan all concur that it is not a public record."

But state law requires more than a bare denial of records. It requires the governmental body to provide the specific exemption relied upon to deny records to the public.

After a further request, city attorney Don Brock Jr. provided a detailed rejection letter, which cited several exemptions carved out by state law. He wrote:

We are unable to provide to you a copy of the bid received in response to the Greenwood Leflore Hospital's request for proposals. The information you have requested is part of ongoing negotiations related to a request for proposals, and per §25-61-5 (6) is therefore exempt from public disclosure at this time.

Furthermore, it is the City's position as co-owner of Greenwood Leflore Hospital, and in accordance in §41-9-68 (2) (iii), that the document you've requested is exempt from public disclosure as "records directly relating to prospective strategic business decisions of a public hospital."

Finally section 26-61-12(4) provides that "records of a public hospital board relating to the purchase or sale of medical or other practices or other business operations and the recruitment of physicians and other health care professionals, shall be exempt from the provisions of [the Public Records Act]."

For the above stated reasons, and in light of on-going negotiations with a prospective bidder for the long-term lease of the Greenwood Leflore Hospital, your public records request is denied as the requested record(s) are exempt from disclosure.

To read Mr. Brock's letter in full, see here: Don Brock Jr.'s public records rejection letter

Greenwood Leflore Hospital also denied our public records request. Christine Hemphill provided us this response:

Under Section 41-9-68(2)(c)(iii) of Mississippi Code it is stated that "Records directly relating to prospective strategic business decisions of a public hospital . . ." are exempt.

UMMC also denied our request:

We received your request for records dated September 12, 2022. You requested the following information:

A copy of UMMC's response to the RFP from Greenwood Leflore Hospital, City of Greenwood, and Leflore County, i.e., UMMC's lease proposal submitted in response to the RFP.

Records responsive to your request are exempt from the provisions of the Mississippi Public Records Act of 1983 pursuant to Miss. Code Ann. § 41-9-68(2)(c)(iii).

The ideal that government records ought to be open, and that "sunshine is the best disinfectant," are not met when government bodies seek to exclude the public from reviewing documents that are crucial to the very survival of their community.

Even if the UMMC lease proposal is technically exempt, that does not mean that the government is prohibited from releasing the records anyway, in the interest of transparency and openness.

With the survival of Greenwood and Leflore County as a successful community hanging in the balance, the continued secrecy of this crucial proposal means that it cannot be reviewed by the public, by the hospital doctors, or by the press.

This blocks the ability of government officials from obtaining honest feedback and criticism of their secret proposal.

What has been disclosed publicly about the proposal has, in every instance, prompted consternation or outrage. UMMC will not assume the $9 million underfunding of the hospital employee pension fund. The pension auditors believe that means that the pension will run out of money at some point and be unable to pay retirees who are depending upon it.

Further, statements have been made that GLH will no longer be providing labor and delivery services, with mothers being required to drive 45 minutes to Grenada to deliver their babies.

According to the Greenwood Commonwealth, two of the three OB/GYN physicians, Dr. Terry McMillin and Dr. Kimberly Sanford have resigned. The Commonwealth reported:

One of the two obstetricians who will not be staying on with UMMC said he was disappointed by the apparently long-term closure of the maternity ward in Greenwood and claims he had been led to believe less than two months ago that this would not happen.

"None of us had any input into this decision," said Dr. Terry McMillin. "It's not what we wanted."

The physician said he is concerned not only that expectant mothers in Greenwood will have to travel farther to deliver but also that women in general may have less access to specialists for medical conditions specific to them.

"The likelihood of having some bad outcomes, at least in the short term, is certainly going to increase," he said.

County supervisors were shocked to be told, just last Monday, that UMMC is demanding that the city and county pony up $9.1 million to pay for necessary repairs, and to repay Medicare for the money it loaned to the hospital.

At the Greenwood Voters League meeting last night, Supervisor Board President Robert Collins told the audience that UMMC has not committed to the county as to what lines of service it will continue to operate at GLH if the lease proposal is adopted. He said:

We don't want to put the money up, but we will if we have to, but we do want to know what we're going to get. From what we were told we're going to get, it was something like an emergency room, outpatient care, and no baby delivery here .... We don't want that. We haven't had a chance to negotiate with anybody .... I don't trust the people that are doing all the negotiating, they're the same people that have run it into the ground.

Collins also claimed that the hospital is not paying all its bills now, and whatever is left owed once UMMC takes over, the city and county will have to pay those outstanding bills, in addition to the $9.1 million UMMC is asking for now.

The full comments made by the three county supervisors, Messrs. Collins, Mitchell, and Moore, who spoke at the Voters League meeting, may be seen here in our video, starting at 100 minutes: Voters League Meeting, October 26, 2022

The Board of Supervisors was confronted with the multi-million dollar demand at Monday's meeting, but after discussion in executive session, no action was taken.

A draft resolution was circulated at the meeting, which if adopted would have committed the supervisors to set aside their required $4.5 million share of the $9.1 million request, although no actual money figures were included in the draft resolution. A copy of that proposed resolution may be seen here: Proposed Resolution to fund GLH repair/loan repayment fund

Now, the Board of Supervisors is set to consider this matter tomorrow morning at 10 am.

It is unknown to the public what other requirements UMMC's proposal takes off the table. Our previous reporting outlined a number of potential "deal breakers" which the city and county mandated in the "Request for Proposals," including:

How much will UMMC pay to lease the hospital?

Will UMMC assume the other debts of the hospital?

Will UMMC guarantee current levels of service for various lines of care?

Will UMMC indemnify the city and county officials?

Will UMMC guarantee employment for all current non-contract staff?

Will UMMC provide a description of plans to expand services in Greenwood?

Will UMMC lease the hospital for a minimum term of 20 years?

See our original reporting outlining the issues here:

Details emerge of proposed "Request for Proposals" to lease the Greenwood Leflore Hospital

GLH announces UMMC has made an offer to take over hospital services; more closures, layoffs announced

So far, most of these questions have not been answered publicly, and when they have been answered, the answers were not well received by the public or the physicians.

The lack of transparency in these negotiations is nothing new, as the hospital has kept most of its business secret from the public and the press for decades.

That's because the Mississippi legislature granted public hospitals sweeping exemptions from the Public Records and Open Meetings laws. Not only are patient records secret, as would be expected, but also employment contracts, and information regarding costs and revenue for various services. Other than patient records, all these other records and proceedings are fully public for all other governmental entities.

This extreme secrecy makes oversight by the citizens and press well-nigh impossible.

In the past, physicians have been denied access to records listing the procedures they performed, so that they could not verify that all their work was being captured and billed appropriately. Information regarding insurance reimbursements for services was not provided to staff and physicians, so that they could never verify hospital administrators' claims that their specialty or procedures were making or losing money. Physicians were let go by the hospital, and told their specialty was losing money, but no proof was provided, or documents showing the analysis on which management decisions were being made.

Even now, a lawsuit is pending by Dr. Preston Boles, alleging that he was being paid less than his white counterpart, and that this was kept secret from him because of the hospital's secrecy practices. To read our previous reporting on this lawsuit, see here: Dr. Preston Boles sues Greenwood Leflore Hospital, claims racial discrimination

For decades, GLH management and operation has been conducted behind a cloak of secrecy, so that neither the staff, the physicians, interested citizens, nor the press could carry out public oversight or scrutinize management decisions. Contracts that are kept secret could not be assessed to determine whether money is being wasted, or whether people are being paid extravagantly.

Even the hospital minutes, which are supposed to be public record, have been expurgated, with most of the important information being recorded in "executive session minutes," which are also kept from the public.

One current hospital trustee, Tracy Shelton, has publicly complained that the minutes are incomplete, and that they don't match the contracts that the board is approving.

But since they are all secret, nobody in the public or the press can verify her complaint. See our previous reporting here: GLH Board Member says the hospital minutes are incomplete, plans to file ethics complaint

This has been a continuing concern for decades. Hospitals are not required to keep the contracts secret, but Greenwood Leflore Hospital has decided to do so up to this point, and sadly, the law permits it to do so if it likes.

In the end, GLH may very well die, in large part, due to the decades-long, obdurate secrecy that it has maintained on information that is vital for the public to access and review.

Right now, our hospital is choking in its own blood.

Yet our city, county, and hospital leaders still refuse to open the doors and let the sunshine in.

To review our reporting on GLH and its financial woes, please see here: Index of Greenwood Leflore Hospital news articles

John Pittman Hey
The Taxpayers Channel

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