• Lacy Sweeney Bond speaks out during the Sept. 18 hospital board meeting.

Fact checking claims made against GRMC

On Sunday evening the creator of the petition to dissolve the Graham Hospital Taxing District, Lacy Sweeney Bond, published a Facebook comment on The Graham Leader’s page regarding the hospital, Endeavor and the board. The Graham Leader checked the accuracy of her claims.

Bond stated in her post that Endeavor has cut 104 jobs and almost $2 million dollars in salaries and benefits since 2017 and projecting into 2019.

According to documentation posted by Bond which she obtained from GRMC, the hospital has seen 108 employees leave Graham Regional Medical Center since 2017. Of the 108, only 18 (17 full time) were involuntarily removed from their job. Kernell said some of the 18 positions were refilled, others had their hours flexed down and some business office jobs were cut because the revenue cycle was outsourced to Endeavor. Fifty-six of the jobs were under the temp worker category. Kernell said most of these are PRNs who work on an as-needed basis and some had been on their employment records and not worked shifts at GRMC for years and they were removed from the payroll system. But there have not been 108 positions cut from GRMC.

Using the projected budget for FY 2019 GRMC will have cut salaries and benefits by $1,152,140, since 2017. Salaries are projected to go up by $175,968 in FY 2019 while benefits are projected to decrease by $259,821. Kernell said a full coverage benefit plan with Blue Cross Blue Shield PPO will be recommended to the board on Tuesday. He said this plan would be an upgrade on benefits for employees but it would be subsidized by employees’ hourly wages.

“Your revenue is cut so therefore you have to cut expenses,” Kernell said. “More than 60 percent of our revenue goes out in the way of salary expenses. So the number one expense we have as a hospital is salaries. If our revenue goes down by $4 or $5 million, you are not going to catch up to that by going after your smallest expense. You have to go after your biggest expense first and you have to staff appropriately.”

Bond stated she asked the board multiple times to move meetings to a Q&A format and after 5 p.m. and add other things to the agenda. She also asked if it was legal for them not to add these issues to the agenda.

Bond did ask multiple times during the meeting to move the meeting time, format and the possibility of adding a tax rate freeze to seniors 65 and older. Young County Judge John Bullock said the public can not place anything onto an agenda for a public entity and instead a Board Member may put any topic needing discussion or action onto an agenda before public notice goes out. He said the board is not required to put anything on the agenda should they not wish to discuss it. Kernell said any request to place an item on the agenda must be submitted in writing to be considered, and even then, it is not a guarantee to be but on the agenda.

Bond claimed the Endeavor CEO Karl Hittle instructed board president Wyatt Pettus to end and disperse the Sept. 18 board meeting.

The Sept. 18 board meeting went into executive session regarding appointment and reappointment of the Medical Staff. Action was taken on the appointments and the meeting was adjourned. 

After adjournment Bond presented the board with more questions and the board stayed to answer them. About 20 minutes later Pettus pulled Hittle aside and returned announcing that he had already adjourned the meeting and only three board members could stay due to the Open Meetings Act. When this offer was made Bond said she had to leave.

She stated she asked Kernell during this time why GRMC was paying one microbiology lab company $21,000 per month and why GRMC has not attempted to refill the department with employees.

Bond did ask this question and she was provided with an answer from Kernell. He said most rural hospitals come to an agreement to have a 3rd party perform lab duties. Kernell said by allowing 3rd party contractors to perform the labs GRMC saves over $150,000 a year. The CEO said the $21,000 a month was an accrued budgeted number. He said the number varies from month to month depending on labs sent and Bond has requested this information and should receive it soon.

Bond asked why the board had placed action item C on the board agenda for Tuesday. The action item will allow the district to set a reasonable limit on the amount of time personnel are required to spend producing public information requests without GRMC recovering costs attributable to the request.

Kernell said this information was brought to their attention by their legal team. Kernell stated his executive assistant, Tammy Andrews Whittenburg, is currently spending 20 hours a week working on public information requests. 

When the Leader went into Whittenburg’s office on Thursday it was sprawled with folders and documents for public information requests. Kernell said they will be recommending that if personnel has to spend more than 15 hours a month on public information requests then they will charge $15 an hour for time spent. According to emails posted by Bond she made around 30 requests for public information from Oct. 6 to 10 and has requested all contracts from January 2010 to October 2018.

Bond has stated she has started the petition to get more answers from those managing the hospital and that her intent is to not close the hospital.

Kernell has adopted an open door policy since September and will meet with any member of the public as long as they set an appointment. Kernell said Bond did not take advantage of this policy and has only emailed lists of public information requests and not attempted to have a face-to-face discussion.

Kernell said GRMC will begin holding a patient advisory council which will allow the selective members of the public to discuss their experiences. Kernell said he is also a member of the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club and holds discussions at Lions Club. He said GRMC is getting ready to strategize for an outreach campaign to show the beneficial things GRMC does.

“2,600 people, every single one saying ‘if the board does not listen to us, if they don’t take the time to listen to us. We are going to’ and I do not think this is a good idea and it is not my personal opinion,” Bond said in the Sept. 18 board meeting. “They are going to petition to dissolve the tax in its entirety, which will drive this hospital into the ground.”

Two weeks later Bond started a petition and created PO Box to dissolve the hospital taxing district.

The Graham Leader

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