At Tuesday morning’s meeting, county commissioners heard from two hospital consulting firms, and criticized Weems CEO Mike Cooper.
During what County Coordinator Michael Morón described as a “first date,” representatives of Community Hospital Corporation (CHC) and Vestra Llc. offered presentations with big promises and few details.
After the talks, commissioners discussed Cooper and his failure to attend county meetings.
Allan Feifer, president of Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, asked why Cooper had not reported recently on hospital matters including construction of a proposed new hospital.
“The hospital is still spending money on construction despite the fact that (county commissioners) ordered Cooper to bring work on the project a standstill,” he said.
County Attorney Michael Shuler said there was no record the board had made any action to stop construction of the new hospital.
Commissioner Cheryl Sanders disagreed. “On Jan. 17, Mr. Cooper stood before us and said all work had stopped except for the engineer and architect,” she said.
She referred to an article in the March 16 Times “City likes Weems site plans” that discussed a presentation to the Apalachicola planning and zoning board concerning proposed hospital construction. The meeting was attended by Cooper although his only brief comment was that funding was a remaining issue with the project.
Sanders indicated commissioners were unaware the plans were to be presented to the city. “Where did that come from when Cooper said work had stopped?” she asked. “In the future, if there is any kind of moving forward with construction of the hospital, the county board needs to know about it.”
Sanders said Cooper has not attended a meeting since January 17. “He refuses to come,” said Commissioner William Massey.
Sanders said she expected Cooper to attend the April 4 meeting. “There will be questions. We have had a CFO (John Graham) and a beloved caregiver (Dana Whaley, ARNP) leave this county and there is no reason for that,” she said.
Two consultants present
Representatives of two hospital consulting and management firms were on hand to introduce themselves to commissioners. Morón asked each to leave the room while the other firm presented and the audience did not get a chance to question presenters.
First to speak was CHC’s David Dominique, a 20-year-old Plano Texas firm. He said his firm began meeting with county representatives two weeks earlier and is in the process of assessing Weems’ financial situation.
He said that, among the challenges faced by Weems is low occupancy, according to him an average of two patients a day for the last five years.
Because of its small size, Dominique said a larger tertiary partner like Tallahassee Memorial Hospital (TMH) would be required for CHC to enter into a relationship with Weems.
Dominique described his firm as a 509(a)(3) not for profit that provides support for not for profit and government hospitals. He said CHC currently owns or leases 15 hospitals, four of which are acute care and 11 long-term care facilities. He said that in hospitals they manage, the CEO, CFO and head nurse are normally employed by CHC.
In addition to management services, CHC offers “strategic support services” tailored to the needs of the facility. He said that, over the last five years, CHC has acted as a consultant to more than 100 hospitals. “We do a lot of work with financially distressed hospitals, many of them critical access” he said.
According to Dominique, CHC employs a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. and focuses on productivity, supply chain, information technology, business development and the revenue cycle to increase hospital income and productivity.
Dominique said his firm uses little known government programs to generate income; including the “swing bed” program. The swing bed program has previously been tried at Weems with mixed results.
Next was Morgan McNulty of Vestra Llc, a Magee, Mississippi firm incorporated in that state in August 2016. According to her Linked In account, McNulty has been managing director of Vestra since February.
She was accompanied to the county meeting by her father, Joe McNulty who founded Pioneer Health Services, another Magee firm and an apparent predecessor to Vestra. His biography on the Pioneer website says he leased his first hospital in 1989.
Morgan McNulty is listed on Pioneer Health Services’ website as president and executive director of the Pioneer Health Alliance. Pioneer is currently in Chapter 11 and an employee stated; in a telephone conversation, Morgan McNulty is no longer affiliated with that company.
McNulty and Morón both said they met for the first time on Monday, the day before the county meeting. She apologized for not having a formal presentation, saying that she had three children on spring break.
McNulty said Magee has a population of 4,500 and she has a great understanding of rural lifestyle. She said Vestra is a not for profit and that she has a great passion for providing aid to rural healthcare providers and told a story about how one of her sons had been saved from a life-threatening allergic reaction by a small town hospital.
She said her company has been working with rural hospitals since 1989, the same year her father leased his first hospital, and oversaw the conversion of the first two Mississippi hospitals to critical access facilities.
She told commissioners that, in order for Weems to succeed the county must attract doctors, nurses and physicians assistants.
“You need our knowledge to help stabilize local primary care,” she said. “Once we get local providers employed by the hospital, then we can start adding services and work with TMH allowing them to bring in specialists. We’re going to keep a partnership with TMH (by sending them referrals.)”
She also said the hours at Weems East clinic in Carrabelle must be expanded.
At the end of her presentation, Commissioner Noah Lockley asked her to estimate the turnaround time for making Weems profitable. “I’m not going to put a time on it. It’s all about providers,” said McNulty.