The newly sworn in Sevier County Medical Center Board of Governor’s held their first meeting at the courthouse on Monday, electing Dr. Steve Cole as it’s chair, Greg Revels as vice-chair, and Skip Bell as secretary. Other board members, who were chosen by the Sevier County Quorum Court at a meeting on Oct. 28, include Dr. Jonathan Hoyt, Jimna Stinnett, and RN Brad Patterson. A sixth seat is still vacant.
Cole said that the Quorum Court did a good job in choosing three people with medical experience.
“I think it will be very helpful to this board,” he said. “We have a good leg to stand on.”
The board members, after being sworn in, each picked a number that would determine their term length. Hoyt’s seat will serve one year, Stinnett, two, Bell, three, Cole four, the vacant seat will be five years when appointed, Patterson’s seat will be six years and Revel’s will be seven. The court will make an appointement when the term expires and there are no term limits.
The board then made the decision to meet at the courthouse conference room at 1:30 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month until the hospital is built. Cole said that there will most likely be many special meetings called and held due to the fast pace they hope to take in building the hospital. They also decided to hold an annual meeting on the first Thursday in April when the hospital audit is reported to the Quorum Court and the board. That will be the time they elect their officers as well.
Discussion ensued concerning the purchase of Director’s and Officer’s (D&O) liability insurance for the board with the board’s attorney, Lynda Johnson of Friday, Eldredge & Clark of Little Rock, saying that the group was covered by the county’s sovereign immunity but that she felt that D&O was important as well and that malpractice insurance would have to be purchased as soon as the hospital was operational.
“This is a different undertaking for the county, I want it to be coverage that is specific to this board,” she said.
The board decided to wait until January when the bond will be funded and the board will begin making decisions that bring risk. They also said they hope the insurance can be provided by a local vendor, though Cole noted that as an entity of the county, they were bound by state guidelines and thresholds as too bidding.
“If we’re shopping locally, great, but we need to be mindful of the bid process as we move forward,” he said.
Revels said that he would get an estimate and then they could determine if they need to go out to bid.
Cole said that starting a hospital was new to everyone on the board and that there would be a lot of hurdles going forward that they had not anticipated.
“As long as we stay on top of it and don’t let it sneak up on us, we’ll be fine,” he said.
Cole said that the hospital’s licensure would have to be addressed as well as meeting with architects, Wittenberg Delony & Davidson of Little Rock, in determining a final design for the building.
Cole said that there is water on the site, which is on 71N near De Queen Lake Road. He said that SWEPCO will be providing electric to the location.
He said also that initially, the hospital, particularly the emergency room, would be managed by Mena Regional Health System, which oversees the Mena hospital.
Jay Quebedeaux, chairman of Mena Regional Health System, was at the meeting and said that their goal was to staff the hospital and ER with De Queen people to run things, and that they would help get it up and running before turning it over to local staff.
“It makes no sense for us to not recruit people that aren’t De Queen people,” he said.
Speaking of the former De Queen Medical Center, Johnson said that the receivership proceeding involving the old hospital was winding down and that they hoped to have the receiver dismissed soon. She said that one big issue they have is that there is a great amount of mold that has built up inside since the hospital’s closure and that medical records were stored in unindexed boxes.
“It’s become a safety issue to go into that facility,” she said, noting that the hospital had contracted with an electronic record provider that had never been paid and will not provide access to the electronic records.
“It’s not safe to get any of these boxes and there’s no rhyme or reason to any of the boxes.”
She said that one of her biggest fears was the health department was going to make them maintain those records but because of the safety risk, it’s impossible to do anything with them. She said that she has asked permission to destroy them and was granted the request. She said that she feared if they were left at the vacant building, the former owner, George Perez, who is facing multiple legal challenges, would gain access to the many Social Security numbers and sell them on the Dark Web.
“He would sell them in a heartbeat just to get the money from them,” she told the board. “I don’t feel we can abandon and leave them there.”
She said that the county would need to hire a contractor to destroy the records and receive certification they were destroyed so they could not be held accountable.
She said that she was also concerned about the health risks to those that would need to access the boxes of moldy paperwork.
Discussion then arose over the computers in the hospital that have patient and employee information on them — computers that will return to Perez when the receivership ends. The board was told that the hospital had experienced extensive looting prior to its closure but that there were still computers that held confidential records that needed to be secured. County Judge Greg Ray said that the county will look into a solution for the hardware still in the facility.
Discussion over the former hospital’s licensure was settled in that the license will be held by Sevier County in a suspended state until the new hospital is built, when it will then be terminated.
Johnson said that the state health department was supportive of the county’s efforts to move past the trauma that came with the closure of the former hospital and the efforts to build a new one.
“I don’t believe there is any danger of the health department coming forward and saying we did something wrong,” she said. “They’re supportive of us doing the right thing.”