Board surprised by HRMC situation

The resignation on Feb. 25 of Haywood Regional Medical Center CEO David Rice was preceded by a tense, hour-long public meeting where hospital trustees expressed surprise and irritation toward Rice’s lack of candor about ongoing, serious problems uncovered by inspectors.

“Given the severity of these problems, why were board members not notified by the administration or authorities?” asked HRMC board member Steve Sorrells.

Mark Clasby, a board member and the county’s economic development director, had a similar complaint.

“I got more information from the media than from the hospital,” Clasby said. “This is a severe situation, drastic, and we have a responsibility as board members to be involved.”

The board members were reacting to the decision by state and federal authorities to suspend Medicare and Medicaid payments to HRMC. Medicare is a federal health care program for the elderly and disabled, while Medicaid is a state-run federal health care program for the poor. According to Medicaid officials, only 5 of 6,700 hospitals nationwide were de-certified in 2007.

The board of trustees called the 4 p.m. emergency meeting to get brought up to date about the problems, and hospital officials had informed the media it would be a closed meeting. However, after board chairman Dr. Nancy Freeman suggested the board go into closed session to consult with its attorney. Dr. Richard Steele made the motion to close the meeting, but none of the other trustees offered a second. Met by a wall of silence, the motion died.

“Before we go into closed session, we need to disseminate as much information to the public as we can,” said board member Mike Ray after the motion failed to get a second.

Freeman said board members were not informed any earlier because she and the administration — even though they were aware of the potential loss of Medicaid funding — did not think the hospital would fail its re-inspection. Freeman also cited her inexperience with the protocols of being the board chairman.

“This is my deficiency, and I beg the board’s forgiveness,” she said.

She also laid some blame at the administration’s feet: “I did not have direction from the administration,” she said.

After the public session, the board went into closed session at a little after 5 p.m. Two hours later, at around 7 p.m., Rice announced his resignation.

Rice explained that a number of medication administration problems by nurses were at the root of most of the problems. He said steps put in place to rectify the problems were thought to have been adequate, but the inspectors disagreed. Up until Sunday night, Feb. 24, Rice and Freeman both said they believed the hospital would meet criteria set forth by the inspectors.

“We can’t take a chance of re-applying without first getting someone in here to help put measures in place and redesign the systems,” said Rice.

– By Scott McLeod

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