Ohio Supreme Court rules in favor of Commissioners in hospital dispute

By Alberta Stojkovic - The Sentinel

Courtesy Photo Morrow County Hospital opened in 1952.

Courtesy Photo Morrow County Hospital opened in 1952.

MOUNT GILEAD — The Ohio Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, Aug. 25 that the Morrow County Commissioners hold a majority of the votes needed to both appoint and remove members of the hospital board.

The ruling essentially means that the commissioners had the right to remove board member Patrick Drouhard from the hospital board last year.

The court also denied Drouhard’s request for writ of prohibition to prevent Commissioners from going forward with a show-cause hearing to consider his removal from the Morrow County Hospital Board. The ruling stated that if he is removed from the hospital board he can appeal by way of Common Pleas Court.

This court ruling only ended one part of a dispute between the hospital board and commissioners that has lasted since June 2019. The beginning of the cause for commissioners’ request for Drouhard’s removal from the Hospital board came soon after Morrow County Hospital Board signed a management contract with OhioHealth.

The Commissioners asked the hospital board not to enter into any new management proposals and issued their own request for proposals from several hospital systems. Commissioners were concerned that with the OhioHealth contract, the hospital would be headed for closure, rather than expansion.

OhioHealth has denied it plans to close the hospital.

Drouhard, with the hospital board’s approval, responded by sending a cease-and-desist letter to the commissioners and demanded that they stop any activity seeking other management. The commissioners went on with their plans to seek different management that would make an effort to expand the hospital’s services and attempted to remove Drouhard from the hospital board for alleged misconduct.

Court ruling

In their ruling to establish the authority of the commissioners, the court justices pointed out that according to Ohio Revised Code the “statutory scheme provides the board of county commissioners with the primary responsibility in the creation of a county hospital and the establishment and oversight of its governing authority.”

The court ruling continues, “The board of county commissioners must approve the county hospital’s budget, and the county commissioners must approve the county hospital’s bidding and purchasing procedures….In light of the extensive and exclusive statutory role granted to the commissioners in these other areas, it would be incongruent for the board of county commissioners to be relegated to a minority role in the appointment and removal of hospital trustees.”

Hospital Board President Brad Wood said at the board’s monthly meeting Tuesday, “The court ruling states Commissioners do have three votes on the appointing authority; our position was that they could only act by resolution and could have only one vote.

“This is somewhat disappointing, obviously. However, it is important to note that the opinion gave no determination as to the validity of the allegations the commissioners make against Pat and his actions as the board chair, remembering that those actions were directed by the board.”

Wood then asked the hospital board’s attorney, Jon Christensen, to send a letter to the appointing authority asking them to clarify the appointment that is in question of three persons now seated for two positions on the board.

Wood said on Wednesday that the letter was sent to both the commissioners and to Judge Robert Hickson, who is also part of the appointing authority.

Commissioners react

Commissioners pointed out that the Ohio Supreme Court‘s decision made it clear that Drouhard’s term as a hospital board member expired on March 1, 2020. The opinion also makes it clear to commissioners that the hospital board’s attempt to appoint Drouhard and to another term was invalid and that Joe Dreyer was validly appointed to the hospital board after Drouhard’s term expired.

“Today, the Ohio Supreme Court agreed with what we’ve been saying for more than a year,” Commissioner Burgess Castle said. “Ohio law gives the county commissioners a majority of the votes needed to both remove and appoint members to the taxpayer-owned hospital board.”

“It’s no surprise that the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the elected County Commissioners get to make the important decisions about a county-owned hospital,” Commissioner Tom Whiston said. “Our goals as commissioners have always been to ensure that Morrow County citizens have nearby access to a life-saving emergency room, keep as many high-paying jobs as possible in Morrow County and fight for transparency and accountability to ensure taxpayers know what their money is being spent on.”

“The Ohio Supreme Court has spoken very clearly today,” Commissioner Warren Davis said. “If the hospital board truly serves the citizens of Morrow County, they’ll agree to settle the remaining lawsuits without spending more taxpayer dollars in a losing effort.”

The court’s opinion in favor of the commissioners was written by Justice R. Patrick DeWine and it was approved 5-0 with Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Patrick F. Fischer, Michael P. Donnelly and Melody J. Stewart.

Justices Sharon L. Kennedy and Judith L. French did not participate.

Courtesy Photo Morrow County Hospital opened in 1952.
https://www.morrowcountysentinel.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/29/2020/08/web1_Hospital-Main.jpgCourtesy Photo Morrow County Hospital opened in 1952.

By Alberta Stojkovic

The Sentinel