Attorneys’ fees grow with hospital, commissioners’ dispute

By Alberta Stojkovic - The Sentinel

MOUNT GILEAD — At the Sept. 23 Morrow County Commissioners’ meeting several residents expressed concern about the expense of attorney fees for both Morrow County Hospital and Morrow County Commissioners.

As the lawsuits go through the Common Pleas Court and Ohio Supreme Court citizens asked about intervention by a third party to mediate the dispute.

Costs incurred

Morrow County Hospital CEO Chad Miller reported on Oct.12 that “legal fees paid in defense of actions brought against the Morrow County Hospital Board of Trustees by the Morrow County Commissioners and Tom Whiston since June of 2019 to date are now $464,870.53.”

The hospital’s attorneys is the firm of Dinsmore & Shohl and Jon Christensen.

Miller added, “The hospital budgets annually for legal fee expenditures. All purchased services which include legal fees are paid from revenues generated by the hospital. Remember that less than 5 percent of hospital revenues are related to the community tax levy.”

Morrow County Commissioners report the total cost to the county in legal fees of $128,565.50. Attorney invoices from attorneys Isaac Wiles law firm reached $152,364 on Oct. 12. This includes the Common Pleas Court case and the case for the county in the Ohio Court of Claims.

The amount of $23, 798.50 was paid by the commissioners’ CORSA insurance. That was for the initial lawsuit that was filed by former hospital board president Patrick Drouhard.

Mediation offered

Several offers for mediation or settlement were made by the Commissioners in 2019 and 2020. They were either rejected or not responded to by the MCH Board.

“The refusal (by the hospital board) to mediate a settlement also has cost the county thousands of dollars unnecessarily,” Whiston said.

“The cost of legal fees can greatly impact our ability to function,”he said. “We either have to forgo capital improvements or reduce spending on other basic programs.”

Whiston added, “The bigger picture is the overall impact to the county if we do not defend actions taken against the county by the hospital board. The money spent to obtain a unanimous decision of the Ohio Supreme Court was one that should not have occurred.”

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the commissioners that they hold a majority of the appointing authority to appoint and remove hospital board members.

Conflict’s roots

The conflict began in May 2019 when commissioners questioned the MCH Board decision in signing the management agreement and physicians purchase between Morrow County Hospital and OhioHealth. The commissioners asked the hospital board to halt the process of agreement until further study could be done and then sent out several Requests for Proposals to several hospital health systems in the state.

Drouhard sent a “cease and desist” letter May 31, 2019 to commissioners asking them to stop the RFP process. The commissioners scheduled a hearing July 8, 2019 to remove Pat Drouhard from the hospital board. The meeting was not held.

The hospital board filed the first lawsuit July 30, 2019 with an emergency writ against Morrow County Commissioners before the Ohio Supreme Court to stop Drouhard’s removal from the hospital board.

Offers of mediation and settlement were made on several occasions by Commissioners in the past year. On Sept. 26, 2019, Commissioners offered to meet and discuss a “global settlement” with Chairman Drouhard and the MCH Board.

Court mediation actions

Oct. 16, 2019 Commissioners extended an offer of mediation to the MCH Board through their attorneys at Dinsmore & Shohl, LLP as suggested by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Mediator Catherine Geyer.

June 12, 2020 MCH Board made an offer asking the commissioners to drop their Common Pleas Court case and pay their own legal expenses. The commissioners counter offer received no response.

July 9, 2020 the judge assigned to the Common Pleas Court case, Judge Patricia Cosgrove made an offer of mediation that the commissioners supported, but was denied by the MCH Board. The latest offer for mediation by the commissioners was extended on Aug. 27, 2020, and was declined.

At the Oct. 19, 2020 Commissioners meeting, Whiston said commissioners are still hoping to have a settlement with the hospital and work with the current hospital board. He said the commissioners would prefer spending money on doctors rather than attorneys.

Brad Wood has served as MCH Board member for several years, and said he is very concerned about legal fees. He added that those fees are budgeted by the hospital are a relatively small part of their $20 million budget. He said his biggest concern is for the employees at the hospital.

“This is a very unsettling time for both the hospital board members and hospital employees,” said Wood, who noted he serves on the MCH Board as an unpaid volunteer.

By Alberta Stojkovic

The Sentinel