Hospital trustees seek to dismiss charges

By Alberta Stojkovic - The Sentinel

MOUNT GILEAD — The hearing of the Appointing Authority of the Hospital Board resumed online Thursday, Sept. 17. Commissioners and their attorneys heard the three Morrow County Hospital trustees defend their actions to reach a management agreement and asset purchase agreement with OhioHealth in May 2019.

Judge Robert Hickson, the fourth member of the Appointing Authority, was not present due to a prior engagement. Forty people joined the meeting online.

Attorneys for the trustees began with a brief synopsis of the three trustees’ resumes. All three held positions as professionals in the county. Brad Wood was employed as a pharmacist for more than 30 years at Whiston Pharmacy.

Olen Jackson taught in Mount Gilead Schools and served on EMS and founded 911 in the county. Dr. Vincent Trago is a radiologist at MCH. All have served on boards in the community.

Attorneys for the trustees questioned them about the process of investigating management and finances for the OhioHealth and Avita Health Systems. Those were the two health systems for which they had received proposals for management contracts.

There was some review of the first charge that they had violated the Ohio Open Meetings act, however much of their answers concerned the second charge that the contract they approved with OhioHealth was unlawful because they put the interest of their competitor OhioHealth before the interests of the Morrow County Hospital.

Differing opinions

Wood, Jackson and Trago said they saw the facts very differently. They noted the Hospital Management Agreement includes a donation by OhioHealth to the MCH Foundation of $1.3 million that was made at the signing as a “commitment to the healthcare needs of Morrow County.”

There are no restrictions on the use of the donation and it still is in the foundation account.

They stated that the third-party evaluation of physicians’ practice assets was $250,000. In addition, the hospital and county will no longer be paying physicians $2 million per year, which amounts to $20 million over the 10 years of the contract. The hospital receives $108,000 per year from Ohio Health for an area of the hospital they lease.

Wood pointed to the “many other positives in the agreement with OhioHealth.”

“I see OhioHealth as committed to working with Morrow County Hospital as a partner, not a competitor,” he said.

OhioHealth positives

Wood also pointed to the obligation of OhioHealth to replace any retiring physicians in the purchase of physician practices. He added that all the considerable resources of OhioHealth are available to MCH.

“Right now is the best situation I have seen for the hospital. We have no debt and 200 days cash on hand,” Wood said.

Trago noted that with OhioHealth there is local control with the hospital board. With Avita Health System they would have only one or two members on a board of 16 or 17.

Wood said the Avita proposal had fewer specifics on financial matters. The primary advantage they had was to point to the success they have had in the management of the Bucyrus and Galion hospitals.

Trustee attorney Willian Mattes asked why they believe commissioners aren’t accepting OhioHealth as having positive business dealings. All three trustees said commissioners don’t believe the positive explanation that the hospital is in a healthy financial situation.

All three said commissioners attended several of their steering committee meetings, and felt that relations were good until the board began to show a preference toward OhioHealth.

“If we are replaced on the board, once facts are in their hands, I don’t believe they would pull out and go to Avita,” Trago said.

“We did our very best to make sure there will be health care in Morrow County, to keep our doctors and to have a plan if the hospital were ever to close,” Wood said.

Commissioners’ attorneys gave a brief rebuttal at the end of the trustee hearing. Mark Landes reminded the trustees and their attorney that the MCH Hospital Board had the first lawsuit against the commissioners.

The lawsuit to “cease and desist” was taken to the Ohio Supreme Court by the hospital board after the commissioners had requested public information.

Landes added that the commissioners are most concerned with what is best for the growth of healthcare in Morrow County, adding it’s not just about a choice of Avita or OhioHealth.

Landes then recommended to commissioners that the third charge of Dr. Trago on ethics violations be dismissed.

By Alberta Stojkovic

The Sentinel