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Hospitals, county square off

Longtime director resigns over hospital CEO’s behavior

Staff writer

St. Luke Hospital’s refusal to pay when ambulance attendants are summoned to help at the hospital will be among the issues to be discussed at a last-ditch, high-level meeting Thursday.

The meeting is an attempt to resolve a series of service and billing questions before state officials intervene.

Previous meetings became so contentious that the county called them off.

How hospital officials behaved in those meetings also has been cited by longtime hospital and foundation board member Gene Winkler in his abrupt resignation from both bodies last week.

At 10 a.m. Thursday, chief executives of both county hospitals, two county commissioners, EMS director Curt Hasart, and lawyers for both the county and the hospitals will meet.

Commissioners David Mueller and Dave Crofoot, county counsel Brad Jantz, and Hasart will attend on behalf of the county. The location of the meeting still was to be decided Monday when commissioners met.

Jantz said discussions between lawyers for both parties had been ongoing since June. Commission discussions of the issue often have been behind closed doors, citing attorney-client privilege “to discuss pending litigation.”

Winkler, who resigned a week ago from his board appointments, issued an apology for the stance he has taken throughout the months of contention.

He said hospital board members never were told about a June meeting between Mueller, Ensey, hospital personnel, commissioner Randy Dallke, and then-EMS director Travis Parmley.

“After hearing how (Ensey) handled the meeting, I was ashamed that someone who was CEO of the hospital would act like that,” Winkler said. “When Travis started to tell his side, he was cut off and never had a chance to speak. I think people finally just got up and walked out.”

Parmley resigned in July, citing family problems that arose after weeks of contention between EMS and St. Luke over patient transfers and EMS services to hospitals.

At that time, Parmley was enforcing an EMS policy, adopted by commissioners, that hospitals must make different arrangements to take patients further than 60 miles because EMS would be left too short-staffed to provide adequate coverage to county residents.

In August, the county decided hospitals should be charged when their patients are transferred and EMS services were provided in hospital emergency rooms.

St. Luke was billed $3,745 for services from EMS between August and December but has paid nothing.

Hasart said the county learned that Medicare would reimburse hospitals for ambulance transfers to larger hospitals only when there was a contract between the ambulance service and the hospital.

Hasart said both hospitals had been billed for in-county transfers and emergency room assistance. Hillsboro Community Hospital has paid, he said. St. Luke has not.

Although he said he would provide information on the amounts billed to the hospitals, he did not do so. The amount billed to St. Luke was provided by county clerk Tina Spencer, who said she did not know what might have been billed to HCH.

St. Luke chief executive Jeremy Ensey, responding to an email sent to both him and HCH chief executive Mark Rooker asking how much money the hospitals had been billed, whether HCH had hired an attorney, whether hospital lawyers had sent letters to the county, and whether the hospitals had paid the bills, answered: “Mark and I have been working with Curt Hasart on resolving as we are working together to develop policies that best serve the residents of Marion County.”

Rooker did not respond to the email.

After commissioners decided last August that local hospitals would be billed for patient transfers and emergency room assistance, Ensey and Rooker sent a letter to the commission contending that transfers to other hospitals are essential to small hospitals’ role in the health care system; that the policy would jeopardize Marion County patients; that the policy did not comply with federal regulations; and that EMS and commissioners must work cooperatively with the hospitals to develop policies that best serve county residents.

That letter was followed by a letter from Wichita lawyer Alex W. Schulte, writing on behalf of St. Luke Hospital.

Schulte wrote that St. Luke had not accepted and would not consent to or be subject to the terms set forth unless it determined that the policies complied with all applicable laws and were consistent with the best interests of the hospital’s patients and unless all necessary written agreements related to EMS services were executed by the parties.

In February, Ensey said the hospital’s lawyer has had no further contact with commissioners or EMS.

Last modified April 5, 2023

 

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