Hospital commission allocates $50,000 for staff, issues warning to Allegiance

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Eureka Springs Hospital Commission is ready to hold Allegiance Health Management accountable for paying its employees, even if that means taking legal action.

On Monday night. chairman John House said he's gotten word that ER doctors aren't being paid on time. This isn't the first time House has reported this information. At a special meeting on Dec. 31, the commission voted to allocate up to $50,000 to provide wages to clinical staff. Allegiance ended up paying the employees, House said, so the commission didn't have to spend any of that money.

"But they went more than two weeks without a paycheck again," House said. "At this point, I continue to hear bits and pieces about various vendors not being paid. At what point do we say enough is enough?"

"I suggest we hand this to the attorney for an initial evaluation as to whether or not we have the legal position to make these payments … because our previous attorney, in no uncertain terms, left me with the strong impression … that we could not spend money that benefited in any way Allegiance's ability to run the hospital," said commissioner Michael Merry.

House said he wasn't referring to paying the doctors, saying he's concerned about keeping Allegiance accountable for the duties specified in its lease.

"There are examples around where hospitals in communities our size are well run," House said. "My question is at what point have we crossed that line? Do we need to proceed further?"

Commissioner Peggy Duncan said she uses the hospital regularly and fears what would happen if doctors didn't come to work because they aren't getting paid.

"I don't want to come up here with no doctors," Duncan said.

Commissioner Christopher Baranyk said the commission stands to lose the hospital if Allegiance can't pay its staff.

"If we lose one day of the ER not being open because we don't have doctors, we lose everything," Baranyk said. "There is no hospital. There's nothing, and you can't get it back again."

House recalled the commission's Dec. 31 vote to allocate $50,000 to pay employees, saying they stipulated that Allegiance would reimburse the commission for that money. Baranyk said he felt the commission should approve a general motion that would take care of that situation in all instances.

"Can we put something in place so we don't have to have an emergency meeting," Baranyk said, "because this seems to happen more often than not?"

House said that would be a good idea, and Baranyk compared Allegiance to a misbehaving teenager.

"We keep telling them not to break the rules, and they keep breaking the rules," Baranyk said, saying actions have consequences. "It's almost like we're encouraging the behavior if we don't do something."

"The other alternative is to deal with it –– put up with the child until they leave home," Merry said.

House said he doesn't want to wait until Allegiance's lease is up to take action.

"I feel like we are not getting top-notch service out of our hospital because of these problems," House said. "It's really tough for me as a physician to promote our hospital … because we don't have the supplies or personnel we need. It's hard for me to be that cheerleader for the hospital. I don't know that I want to do that for three more years."

The commission has to do something, Baranyk said, to be sure the hospital is staffed by paid employees.

"This isn't a publicity stunt," Baranyk said. "This is serious."

"If we reach a point where we have no ER doctors, it's over with," Merry said. "The place shuts down. The license goes away."

Baranyk moved to allocate $50,000 to pay employees in the event they aren't paid on time, with Allegiance reimbursing the commission for any money spent. The commission unanimously approved the motion.

If the commission ends up spending any of that $50,000, Baranyk moved to initiate legal proceedings against Allegiance holding the company in default of their contract. The commission unanimously approved the motion, and Baranyk said he hopes the message is clear.

"This makes a statement to Allegiance and the community that enough is enough," Baranyk said.

The commission's next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, May 20, at the ECHO community room.

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