Rebuilding morale and trust at Pemiscot Memorial Health Systems in Hayti, MO were key words a special meeting held by the Pemiscot County Commission on September 3rd. The meeting was called to discuss resignations of three Board members and what the future held for the hospital. PMHS Board members Glenn Haynes, Johnny Harmon, and Bobby Khourie submitted resignations last week and the County Commission voted unanimously to accept them Tuesday morning.
The hospital has been struggling with a debt estimated to be up to four million dollars and has furloughed the equivalent of 30-45 full time employees, according to CEO Jack Pennington. That number could be higher in actual people as some of those laid off were part time.
Kerry Noble addressed the County Commission and public stating that it was a time to begin rebuilding trust in the community and morale among the employees that remain working. He told the Commission that the billing had returned in house. The billing was a much heated topic of debate as it was handled by now former Board member Glenn Haynes’ business. Noble said he expected the transition to be smooth.
Noble said that the retirement benefits had been caught up through June and a plan had been established to begin paying the amount withheld from the employees’ pay on a payroll schedule. Previously it was reported that the amounts not paid in were the hospital match, but Noble said that also included what was withheld from the employees’ pay because of how Lagers billed the hospital. He said that issue was in the process of being totally corrected.
Noble said that he was working with Pennington on a plan to bring the hospital back into the black. He assured the Commission that he was going to remain at the hospital to help the hospital re-establish solvency. “When I did this before we focused on regaining cash flow,” he said, “The first 90 days we are focusing on breaking even on cash.” Noble continued to say he hoped to break even in the next six months so the taxes could be put up as profit. “When I worked this plan before, it happened quicker than six months, and I am confident we can do it again,” he said. Noble hoped that the final bond payment could be made early if all goes well.
Noble’s plan does not include rehiring furloughed employees as of yet, unless it is deemed that the lay-offs affected “critical services.” According to Noble several contracts are under scrutiny and other steps will be considered to help the hospital regain lost financial ground. Part of the plan is for the hospital to look into moving away from being self-insured. Noble said he plans to check out group insurance plans, and employees may pay 50% while the hospital picks up 50% of the premium.
During the last several months, the employees went from paying nothing for their insurance to six percent of their salary. Mike McGraw called this “a form of reverse discrimination.” Noble agreed and said that he was never in favor of this change, but had to institute the will of the Board. Another employee issue discussed was the loss of 70 accrued sick days, maxing the employees at only 20 when they had been allowed to accrue 90. Noble said he had advised the Board that he felt that if the change was made, the employees should have been grandfathered in and the change should have been instituted with new employees. The Board chose not to take his advice.
Other contracts that are being discussed are the food service contract and the consulting contract for psychiatric services. Noble said that the hospital is considering taking these over in-house. Noble said the hospital would also be taking a look at the EMS services. He said that in the past the hospital had discussed privatizing the service to another vendor, but that decision always included a subsidy. He said they would be open to discussion if it did not come with a subsidy.
Noble also said he would have to work to restore relationships with vendors. “I have not spoken with them in two or three weeks and we may have some rebuilding to do there,” he said.
Bobby Culler said that the time had come for healing. He and the commission agreed that employee morale needed addressed along with the community trust. Noble cited a decline in census of filling hospital beds and agreed that the community trust needed rebuilt. Pennington said that he was planning meetings with all of the employees over the next two weeks to bring them up to date on what the future held and to reassure both them and the community that the administration was doing everything possible to move the hospital forward in a positive direction.
When asked about statements that had been made in previous public Hospital Board meetings about most of the negative changes falling on Noble’s shoulders, Noble responded that he did not agree with a lot of the changes that affected both the hospital and contracts, but both he and Pennington had to follow the directions of the Board.
None of the plans that Noble presented can move forward without a Hospital Board in place. Currently the Board of five has only two members, Lee Wigginton and Linda Burnett, and that is not enough to meet a quorum. Presiding Commissioner Jim Atchison assured the public that the Commission was moving swiftly and urgently to fill the positions. In lieu of the positions being filled, Noble and Pennigton could approach the Commission for advice and consent.
The three seats will be filled by appointment of the County Commission in the near future. According to County Clerk Pam Treece, the appointments will only last until the April 2014 election. At that time all three seats will be on the ballot to fill the unexpired terms. Khourie’s term expired in April, 2014 so that Board member will be elected in April to a full five year term.