Nearly four years after county commissioners hired him as CEO over Weems Memorial Hospital, Mike Cooper is on his way out.
At Tuesday morning’s meeting, commissioners unanimously passed a motion by Cheryl Sanders, and seconded by Noah Lockley, to ask Tallahassee Memorial Hospital to replace Cooper within the next 30 days.
Under an agreement put in place well before Cooper’s hiring in Dec. 2014, the Weems CEO works under a contract with TMH, unlike the rest of Weems employees.
“Mr. Cooper has been walking a thin road for a long time,” said Sanders. “Let’s contact TMH to see if that can happen.
“I feel (TMH CEO) Mark O’Bryant will do something about it. He wants the people of Franklin County satisfied, “ said Sanders. “I can’t say that as a commissioner, I’m satisfied with his job.”
Sanders said Cooper has delegated important responsibilities, such as being present for inspections by the Agency for Health Care Administration, and the Joint Commission. She also said Cooper promised three years ago to secure rural health clinic status, which means larger reimbursements for Medicare and Medicaid patients, for the county’s two clinics, but has only recently got it for Carrabelle and is now working on it for the Apalachicola clinic.
“I am not satisfied with his performance as a CEO of Weems Memorial Hospital in Franklin County Florida,” said Sanders.
“What if TMH can’t turn this (the request) around in 30 days?” asked County Attorney Michael Shuler.
“We need a CEO out there, a new one,” said Commissioner William Massey.
“An interim is fine with me,” said Sanders. “I just want Mr. Cooper gone.”
Shuler said he will examine the terms of Cooper’s contract, which began as a two-year deal when he was first hired, and then was extended on an ongoing basis following that. The county attorney said it was his understanding Cooper could be entitled to six months’ severance pay, or $75,000, upon his dismissal.
Cooper’s initial pay package in 2014 was for a $150,000 annual salary, plus a $10,000 sign-on bonus and up to $6,000 for temporary housing and moving expenses, making him among the highest-paid government employees in the county, rivaled only by the circuit judge.
Cooper’s compensation package, negotiated by TMH and approved by the Weems board of directors, has long rankled the county commission, and Tuesday’s meeting was no exception.
“I don’t want all that in the next contract and I don’t want paying for no travel,” said Lockley. “If they can’t make it down here, get somebody else.
“We should have never had nothing like that in our contract,” he said. “We can’t pay what Tallahassee pays. We don’t generate the money that Tallahassee generates. Why should we be forced into something like that?
“When we start saying we’re going to move somebody, give them a job, we’re going to give x amount of dollars to come here, I don’t think we should have to do that. We’re already paying a high-dollar figure.
“They don’t give nobody else no money,” Lockley said. “They got this county entrapped.”
Chair Smokey Parrish recommended Lockley’s suggestion be turned into a recommendation to the hospital board, since that is the entity that will negotiate a deal with any future CEO hirings.
The commissioners’ vote to oust Cooper comes at a time when it began review of a proposal from TMH for a “collaborative partnership,” between Weems, TMH and Alliant Management Services.
The deal is structured so as to give Alliant the role of operating the hospital, complete with handling finances, clinical services, strategic planning and the entire gamut of Weems’ responsibilities. The deal could not become effective until Feb. 2019, due to requirements of a previous Alliant employee’s non-compete agreement.
TMH proposes to charge a fixed management fee for the first 18 months, some of which would be at risk if “performance metrics” are not met. This option foresees analysis and planning for an “appropriate replacement facility,” as well as a tie-in with TMH’s network of primary care physicians and specialists.
It also offers a three-year management agreement option with a variation where TMH would be able to “appropriately allocate allowable costs” to Weems, and to provide oversight of Alliant, which would also be an allowable administrative cost.
Like a recent one from Sacred Heart, the TMH proposal is long on vision and short on specifics, particularly on how much risk TMH would have as it sets out to take on the future growth of Weems.
“We want somebody to take the risk, this board does not need to be in the health care business,” said Sanders. “We want someone who we have confidence in, whose number one concern it to take care of our people.
“Whoever comes in here to do right by the people, that’s who I want. I’m not worried about the names (of the companies), just come in here and give us something and this board will have enough confidence in and pull back and take the board out of the equation,” ,” she said.
“They’re all looking at the tax money. They want to have no risk at all and take our money,” said Massey.
“We don’t need someone to come in here and make money,” said Lockley.
In sending County Coordinator Michael Morón back to talk with officials from Sacred Heart and TMH, commissioners asked for more details as to how the hospital systems propose to handle emergency calls, how much of the 1 percent health care sales tax they would ask for, what the effect on job losses or gains any changes would bring, and how they would handle construction of a new facility.
“We cannot have our 911 calls leaving this county. The ambulance can’t take a 911 call and go to an urgent care center,” said Morón.
Morón also reported that as part of an inquiry into transforming the ambulance service into a county department, he and Commissioner Ricky Jones met with the head of Gulf County’s emergency services, a county department with a $1.4 million budget, about one-quarter of which is subsidized by the county.
“Transitioning to a county EMS department would not be as simple as stated by others, and would require someone with extensive administrative and management skills to run that department,” Morón said.