County commissioners voted Tuesday to turn back the clock on raises for Weems Memorial Hospital employees.
Commissioners voted 4-1 to return salaries to the rate of pay on Sept. 30, 2015, with Commissioner Rick Watson opposed.
At Tuesday morning’s meeting, during the commissioner comments at the end of the meeting, Commissioner Cheryl Sanders offered two motions regarding Weems Memorial Hospital for board approval.
First she moved that an independent audit be performed on the finances of Weems’ hospital, clinics and ambulance services. She said she was not comfortable with any further discussion of the proposed new hospital facility until the board had a better idea of Weems’ financial position.
“I have no faith in what I hear from the (Weems administration),” she said.
Watson said he agreed that it is prudent to step back from the construction project until Weems has a firmer indication from Tallahassee Memorial Hospital (TMH) as to its future role in partnering with Weems. But he said he did not think an audit was needed.
“We have issues with the hospital and the timing of the raises was terrible,” said Watson. “But a relationship with TMH could change everything.”
“Didn’t the county accountant already perform an audit?” he asked.
Sanders said she wanted an audit by a firm specializing in medical bookkeeping, with no affiliation to Franklin County.
Commissioner Smokey Parrish asked what the purpose of the audit would be.
“I have had complaints about (Weems finances) from one end of the county to the other,” she said. “This is me. I want an audit. If you decide you don’t, that’s you.”
Commissioner William Massey asked how much an audit would cost.
Sanders said it could cost anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 depending on the amount of detail requested. She said she had ascertained that the funding was available in the professional services line item of the budget.
Sanders’ motion to order an audit died for lack of a second.
She then asked County Attorney Michael Shuler if he had investigated how much authority county commissioners had to rescind salary increases approved by the hospital board in Oct. 2015.
The Weems board awarded $76,000 to its top six administrators as part of a hospital-wide pay hike. Other members of the hospital staff received increases of 25 cents/hour. All told, the raises added about $150,000 to annual labor costs.
At a hospital workshop Sept. 8, Sanders told Weems CEO Mike Cooper, “The underlying thing is you need more money. I’ve looked at the figures and you still have only seven days cash on hand. You only have 1.6 patients a day. Over the last year you took $890,000 out of capital outlay on top of $1.5 million in funds from the health care tax and then you gave arbitrary raises to the upper echelon. The nurses and workers are the backbone of this hospital.”
Cooper, who was not at Tuesday’s meeting, had responded to Sanders that he believed his administrative staff deserved higher salaries because they performed multiple jobs due to the small size of the hospital, and that the raises brought them more in line with comparable faculties.
According to documentation provided by the hospital to commissioners, the $76,000 in salary hikes were given to Cooper, who received about $15,000 to earn $165,000 annually; Graham who received $10,962 to make $121,000; Director of Nursing and Licensed Health Risk Manager Becky Gibson who received $13,416 and rose to $90,126; Human Resources Director Ginny Griner who received $10,379 for a $77,334 salary; Director of Revenue Cycle Management Jordan Fulkerson who received $1,310 to increase to $76,315; and Director of Plant Operations Craig Gibson was received an increase of $25,376 for an annual salary of $71,739.
At the Sept. 8 hearing, audience members argued that the salaries paid Weems administrators were much higher than those paid individuals in the same jobs in other hospitals, citing online data
Shuler said he had discussed the county board’s authority to change the amount of the raises with a county legal advisor on labor related issues.
He said commissioners could order the salaries to revert to a specific date if the order applied to all hospital staff. He said the board could also address restoring, reducing or increasing the pay hikes at a later date.
Sanders moved that pay be restored to the level on Sept. 30, 2015 be restored. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Noah Lockley.
Sanders’ motion instructed Shuler to write a letter to Cooper informing him of the change, which is to remain in place “until it is financially beneficial” for the county and Weems to enact pay increases to all hospital employees.