County commissioners have taken the first step towards breaking ties with Tallahassee Memorial Hospital

At Tuesday morning’s county meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to end their contract with TMH, and pay Weems CEO Mike Cooper and CFO John Graham directly, rather than through TMH as a management partner.

The move came after Graham informed commissioners that since Dec. 2015, the county’s debt to TMH has grown from $286,000 to more than $600,000. He said the county has only made one payment to TMH towards the debt in the last three months.

Commissioner Noah Lockley asked why the money was owed.

Graham responded it was “a matter of cash flow” and represented reimbursement for his and Cooper’s salaries. The two men’s combined salaries amount to $5,000 a week.

Lockley said that because Cooper and Graham are paid through TMH they receive more benefits than other Weems employees.

“I think you should be under the same medical plan as (the other Weems employees) You are making the most money and get benefits the others don’t get. It’s not right,” said Lockley.

He moved that Graham and Cooper be “removed” from the TMH plan.

County Attorney Michael Shuler said he would need to review the contract with TMH to ascertain the renewal date for the document. Later in the afternoon, Shuler said he needed to determine the terms by which the contract had been extended since it was first signed.

Lockley told Cooper he had been waiting for information about the cost of the proposed new hospital, and details of the proposed risk management partnership with Alliant.

Cooper said the cost for the hospital will be about $10.25 million, and that he had not reported on it lately because he had been instructed by commissioners to put construction on hold.

He said the only funds being paid out were to satisfy obligations to the architect on the project and to the project manager Adams Group. for work authorized in the past.

Commissioner Cheryl Sanders asked that the county finance office compile a list of bills related to the proposed construction paid over the last three-months.

Cooper said there have been management changes at Alliant due to “family issues.” He said he had expected Alliant to attend Tuesday’s meeting but the changes led to delays.

Cooper said he would have a report on Alliant on Friday, Jan. 20, but could not predict what the report would contain. “There are plenty of other opportunities out there if this doesn’t work,” he said.

“Where do we stand, Mr. Cooper?” Sanders asked

“I don’t know,” Cooper replied. “TMH has no obligation to do anything. You have severed the relationship.”

The meeting adjourned for lunch. On returning at 2 p.m. Chair Smokey Parrish said that giving notice that the contract will be terminated will end all negotiations with TMH.

Cheryl Sanders moved that the county go out for a request for qualifications (RFQs) from other hospital management firms. The motion died for lack of a second.

The hospital’s management contract dates back to Dec. 2008, during the time in which Chuck Colvert was CEO. The agreement was approved at that time by the TMH board of directors, the Weems board and the county commission.

Under the agreement TMH agreed to employ the Weems' CEO, as well as Chief Nursing Officer Candi Fox, who has since left Weems. Under the agreement Weems was able to reduce the costs of its supplies and services through TMH-sponsored purchasing cooperatives.

“Clinical quality improvement will also be a focus of the partnership agreement,” read a news release at the time. “Tallahassee Memorial's quality improvement staff will be available to consult with Weems colleagues on standards of patient care and quality enhancement activities.”

In addition, the hospitals “have agreed to promote seamless transfers for patients between the two institutions,” read the 2008 release.