MOUNT GILEAD — Morrow County Commissioner Thomas Whiston and the Morrow County Board of Commissioners filed a civil case against Morrow County Hospital Board of Trustees and requested a trial by jury in the Morrow County Court of Common Pleas.

The complaint lists four parts in the nature of the claim, filed Thursday, Jan. 23:

• This is an action to invalidate unlawful agreements between the Morrow County Board of County Hospital and the OhioHealth Corporation. For decades, the Hospital Board delegated the operation of the Morrow County Hospital to OhioHealth; As a result, the Morrow County Hospital lost significant money including millions of taxpayer dollars. Something needed to be done.

The Hospital Board had two suitors: (1) Avita Health Systems, which offered $5 million for the hospital, the elimination of taxpayer subsidies, and a dramatic increase in services for Morrow County, Ohio residents; or (2) OhioHealth, which offered less than $250,000 for most of the hospital’s assets and promised to eliminate services. The Hospital Board made the second choice — the irresponsible choice. And continues to make that choice.

• The Hospital Board acted in bad faith along the way. It violated the Open Meetings Act more than 20 times. It attempted to dispose of Board of Commissioners assets in violation of law. It paid a consultant $380,000 to then sell five doctors’ practices for $248,065. It failed to receive an independent valuation of the doctor practices. And its bad faith will cost Morrow County, Ohio residents access to vital medical services.

• The Hospital Board also failed to maintain impartiality. Senior OhioHealth officials attended executive sessions to deliberate the future of Morrow County. Senior OhioHealth officials advised the Hospital Board on competing proposals. The Hospital Board is charged with making the best decision for Morrow County and its citizens, but allowed itself to be captured by OhioHealth, the same organization responsible for millions in Morrow County Hospital losses.
• For the benefit of Morrow County, Ohio citizens, and as required by law, the unlawful agreements between the hospital Board and OhioHealth must be undone.

The following 26 pages state “Relevant Facts” involving the case. The conclusion requests that the court issue a declaratory judgement that the Hospital Board and Hospital Board Steering Committee violated or threatened to violate the Open Meetings Act by failing to advertise and announce meetings that discussed public business, failing to allow public access to these meetings, improperly discussing public business in executive session, improperly exceeding the scope of special meetings and failing to properly prepare, file, and maintain minutes of public meetings.

They also request that the court issue a declaratory judgment that the contract with ECG Management Consultants, Inc., the Letter of Intent, the Agreement and the Lease are invalid as matter of law.

In addition they request the court issue a mandatory injunction compelling the Hospital Board and the Hospital Board Steering Committee to promptly prepare, file and maintain minutes of the meetings with sufficient detail to determine the basis of deliberations and decision making, and make the same available for public inspection.

Relators (Morrow County Commissioners) also ask for an award of a civil forfeiture of five hundred dollars for each distinct violation of the Open Meetings Act, as well as an award of all costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

The commissioners provided The Sentinel the following written statement regarding their request of declaratory action:

“Over the past several months the Morrow County Commissioners have made repeated attempts to work through issues with both the Morrow County Hospital Board and OhioHealth regarding operations at our County-owned hospital. Unfortunately, these repeated attempts to resolve these lingering issues with the appointed Hospital Board, and the competing hospital system selected by the Hospital Board to operate our county facility, have been largely ignored and disregarded.

“With the Hospital Board’s refusal to provide answers to relatively simple financial questions, and to be accountable for the annual $1.4 million in support provided by Morrow County taxpayers, the Commissioners were forced to take action to protect the long-term interests of the County.

“At this time we refer anyone with questions regarding the Hospital to documents that are posted on the County’s website, and click on Development and Morrow County Hospital, and also to the Declaratory Action filed January 23, 2020 in the Morrow County Common Pleas Court.”

Morrow County Hospital Board of Trustees President Patrick Drouhard responded that he had just received the case filing a short time before on Monday afternoon and had not had time to review the file.

Board attorney Jon A. Christensen also said that he had not had a chance to review the complaint filed by the commissioners carefully.

“I can assure you that the board will respond through the court system in a timely manner and vigorously defend the actions it has taken and whatever actions it hasn’t taken that are in the complaint, ” he said.

Christensen said their trial lawyer will file the answer to the complaint within the deadline of the court system.

By By Alberta Stojkovic

The Sentinel