Hospital board rescinds attorney decision

Published 12:05 pm Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Lightfoot & Nichols will continue serve as legal counsel for the county’s health care authority.

At a special-called board meeting on Tuesday night, the board voted to rescind its decision to dismiss Lightfoot & Nichols and hire Mike Jones as its attorney, in a 5-3 vote. Andy Kimbro, Barnett King, Stallion Sasser, Dr. Pat Walker and Salena Fowler voted in favor of rescinding the vote. Allen Sexton, Braxton Laird and Rita Brown voted against the measure. Yvonne Noble was absent.

Health care authority chairman Kimbro addressed the board with “serious” concerns he had about the validity and appropriateness of a vote taken last week.

Kimbro outlined several reasons he did not think the board’s actions were done in the correct manner.

The discussion was had in executive session and should not have been because it did not touch on good name and character or any other reason to call an executive session, he said.

Additionally, the measure was not on the agenda, and it should have been so that it could have been considered and discussed. Two members of the board abstained and one of the longest-standing members was absent from the meeting.

Kimbro said he has also mistakenly believed that he could only vote when there was a tie.

However, Roberts Rules of Order, which are the rules of order used by boards and other deliberative assemblies, states that the president or chairman of the voting body has the same rights and privileges as all other members, including the right to make motions, to speak in debate and to vote on all questions.

Kimbro said if he had known he had the same rights as the other members of the board, he would have voted against the initial motion to dismiss Lightfoot & Nichols, which he said would have alleviated the need for the special-called meeting and the rescinding vote.

Kimbro also stated he was concerned about the affects firing the firm could have on the refinancing of hospital authority debt deal.

“We should not chance losing the more than $500,000 in saving to the citizens of this community,” he said.

Additionally, attorney Levi Nichols said he has spent more than 170 hours working on the refinancing, in which he has had to deal with various issues due to the closure of OB services and negative press associated with the closure.

Kimbro was also concerned with the possibility of having to replace administrative assistant Elizabeth Kilpatrick. Kimbro reminded the board that it had a difficulty finding someone who has had the time and talent to do the job.

Board vice chairman Allen Sexton, who has openly voiced his opinions against the closure of OB services, and who moved last week to dismiss Lightfoot & Nichols as the attorney and hire attorney Mike Jones, defended the measure to the board.

“This was done with a full quorum,” he said of the 3-2 vote. “The main reason I brought the motion up was I feel that our attorney has a conflict of interest with Inmed and I still feel that way. I feel like he has a situation where he cannot give us a 100 percent legal counsel when it has to do with Inmed. I felt very much so that he was trying to persuade the board to do nothing about the OB services closure. He talked first instead of the board. It was a sales job. The minutes are there. You can read them. To this day, I do not feel good about it.”

Sexton said he had nothing against Lightfoot & Nichols, but his main concern was what he feels there is a conflict of interest.

Nichols told the board that his wife works for Beacon Children’s Hospital, which is part of Inmed, and that his sister-in-law is the director of nursing at Crenshaw Community Hospital.

Nichols said that conflict of interest issues are very specific, and the majority involves clients.

“I don’t represent Inmed or Beacon or its affiliated companies,” he said.

Nichols said he consulted with a well-known ethics professor in Montgomery, whose opinion is there were no conflicts of interest and the Alabama Bar, who would not issue an opinion on the issue.

“I have no allegiance to Mr. (Brad) Eiseman (hospital CEO) or his company,” Nichols said. “The only thing I have done for this board is try to give advice. I understand that the public has the right to know, but when you go out into the public, you never know how it is going to be taken,” he said.

Board member Stallion Sasser said he would have preferred to have known the vote was going to come up before it did.

“You know I’m in health care,” he said. “I know hospitals that have closed. We need to get along. We need to try to keep this hospital open. The next five years are crucial due to ObamaCare. The closure of OB services was best for the hospital at this time. We all want to keep this hospital open. On the public side, we are looked down on. It has been said in the paper that we need new board members and everything.”

Board member Barnett King, who was unable to attend last week’s meeting, said he would have liked to have had a vote.

“Ain’t nobody more concerned with this hospital than me,” he said. “All this publicity we are getting in the paper and chatter around here is going to destroy this hospital. I don’t see any conflict of interest in Levi and Johnny Nichols. I could see a conflict of interest on what Allen wants to do. I’m interested in this hospital. I would rather the 35 or so women drive to Montgomery than all of us.”

Board member Salena Fowler questioned Sexton’s conflict of interest statement.

“If you think there is a conflict with Levi, there were former board member who had as many as four family members working here. Why didn’t you say something then,” she said.

Sexton said he agreed with Fowler.

“It needs to be addressed,” he said. “You cannot make decisions when it’s the board and Inmed. It could be held against the family member who works here. We should not have a board member with any conflicts. There are situations where board members shouldn’t vote if you’d read the bylaws. You might need to read them and see if we are following them.

Fowler countered by reminding the board that Luverne is a “small, small town” and there is great need for a hospital to stay open.

“Yeah, you’re going to have family members working here because we don’t have that many jobs,” she said. “What are we going to tell people, ‘oh go get on Welfare because I’m kin to you?’ That’s not right. We need to put that aside.”

Sexton said he disagreed.

“I’m sorry you disagree,” Fowler said. “I disagree with a lot of stuff you say, too. You want to say, get on welfare or you can’t pay your bills or take care of your children, just because I’m kin to you.”

Sasser reminded the board members that their decisions and actions affect every employee.

“I know my staff, and if something like this is going on, they’re looking for another job,” he said. “What we are doing is messing with people’s lives because we can’t get along with each other. We are going to lose good nurses. They read the paper.”

Walker said he was very confounded over the issue, citing he was good friends with all the attorneys involved.

“You are in a small town, every decision made affects my practice in medicine,” he said. “We need to try to do what’s best for the overall citizens. I think Levi has been doing a good job as I see it. I could not support changing at this time.”

Board member Braxton Laird, who has served 12 years, said the board needed to get along and start working as a team.

“I foresee bigger problems, if we don’t,” he said. “Let’s try to settle our differences. On the conflict of interest, we need to look at each and see how important each one is. All of life is a give and take. You’re not going to always get your way. Once a decision has been made, I think we should stand by it. Life changes. I would like to see the hospital grow and prosper. If we have a split board, we’re going to have problems.”