Delta Memorial Hospital in Dumas took an unusual step to replace the CEO who recently resigned, leaving behind lawsuits and bruised feelings in the community. It partnered with another southeast Arkansas hospital to share its CEO.
Since Nov. 1, Darren Caldwell has split his time as CEO between Delta Memorial and DeWitt Hospital & Nursing Home, where he had been CEO since 2002. It’s apparently the only case in Arkansas where one person is the CEO of two hospitals that have no common ownership. Both hospitals are owned by their cities and are managed by nonprofit entities.
“We’re hoping by bringing two facilities together that we stand a better chance of negotiating on not just supplies but on other contracts,” said the 47-year-old Caldwell.
Caldwell, who was born and raised in Dumas, also hopes to unite the community of just under 5,000 people after several residents called for the resignation of Delta Memorial’s previous CEO, Cris Bolin. At least 50 people attended a hospital board meeting in February and demanded answers to why she didn’t renew the contract of one of the community’s favorite physicians, Dr. Kong Hua “Peter” Go. The audience didn’t receive a specific answer.
Bolin remains at the hospital as its CFO but didn’t return several calls for comment.
The divide in the community caused Dumas Mayor James Berry to step down in the spring from his position on the Delta Memorial board of directors after about three years of service. “I thought it was beneficial for me not to be on the board because of the controversy,” Berry said.
He said he represents the entire city, not a small portion of it. And “it’s going to take some work” to heal the community and the hospital, he said.
Caldwell said the management agreement is temporary between the hospitals that are 35 miles apart and will be examined after a few months. Each hospital will pay half of his salary. In 2010, he made $148,508 from the DeWitt hospital.
In the meantime, “both facilities have every intention of maintaining their own identity,” Caldwell said. “There won’t be a merger of board members. Each facility will operate as its own. The management is the only thing that will be shared.”
Cris Bolin was named CEO of Delta Memorial in the second half of 2009 and stepped into a hospital that was losing money. For the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2009, Delta Memorial reported a loss of $1.2 million on total patient revenue of $20.3 million. In Bolin’s first year as CEO, the hospital reported total patient revenue of $29.6 million and a net income of $738,932.
For the fiscal year that ended in 2011, Delta reported net income of $542,417 on total patient revenue of $28.8 million.
The community outcry against Bolin started when she decided earlier this year not to renew the hospitals contract with Go, who had been on staff for at least three decades.
“That was the beginning of the whole thing,” said board member Timothy Jones. “And so you have a handful of people in the community that didn’t like it.”
Jones referred questions to board chairman Benny Estes, who didn’t return several calls for comment.
Go made $636,728 for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2010, and $493,877 the next year. (He wasn’t the highest-paid doctor at the hospital, according to the hospital’s 990 tax forms. That title went to Dr. David Chambers, who earned $822,582 in fiscal 2010 and $833,251 a year later.)
According to a lawsuit Go filed against the hospital in Desha County Circuit Court, Bolin ordered Go to leave the hospital immediately instead of giving him the 60-day notice that was required by his contract. As a result, “Dr. Go’s patients, many of whom require ongoing care, no longer have access to their primary care physician,” attorney Howard Holthoff of Dumas wrote in Go’s court filing.
Go said in the lawsuit that the hospital’s move prevented him from practicing in the area.
Shortly after the lawsuit was filed on Feb. 15, about 50 people attended a standing-room-only hospital board meeting and treated board members as if they were in a Congressional hearing. Video of the meeting posted on the SEArkToday.com news website recorded shouts and cheers for Bolin to be removed.
Neither Bolin nor board members told the crowd why Go’s contract was not renewed.
“What we told the judge at the hearing was there was a ‘no cause’ provision in the contract, and that’s what they were exercising at that time,” attorney Bruce Tidwell of Little Rock, who represented the hospital in the lawsuit, told Arkansas Business last week.
Circuit Judge Robert Bynum Gibson Jr. agreed that Go should be allowed to work 60 days to finish out his contract and ordered that to happen.
The hospital “offered this Court no reasonable explanation why that relationship should be so abruptly, and without cause, interrupted,” Gibson wrote in his order.
In July, six former hourly employees filed a lawsuit accusing the hospital of violating the wage and hour section of the Fair Labor Standards Act by regularly forcing employees to work through their lunch breaks because of understaffing. Hour-ly employees also worked off the clock because they “had been discouraged by [hospital officials] to accrue overtime,” according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Pine Bluff.
Maryna Jackson of Little Rock, one of the attorneys who filed the lawsuit, is asking for the court’s permission to search for other employees who might want to join the lawsuit.
Delta Memorial has denied violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. Instead, the hospital “states that the plaintiffs’ Complaint is without any basis in either fact or law and that the defendant is not liable to the plaintiffs in any manner whatsoever.”
Another lawsuit against Delta Memorial that is pending in the Pine Bluff division of U.S. District Court involves a former employee, Paula Smith of Dumas. Smith said she was fired in 2009 after seven years of service for missing 19 days of work in a 90-day period and not finishing her assignments fast enough.
But Smith said that she believes that she was fired for having diabetes and suffering from migraines, a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The hospital has denied Smith’s allegations.
The boards at DeWitt and Delta Memorial hospitals started talking about the CEO-sharing arrangement after Bolin announced several weeks ago that she was stepping down, the new CEO, Caldwell, said.
“The idea of shared services between Dumas and DeWitt has been around a long time,” he said. “This now felt like it was as good as time as any to give this an opportunity to work.”