Feeling like "a David facing Goliath, but without a slingshot," River Heights Mayor John Stewart this weekend delivered a stinging indictment of Logan Regional Hospital, Intermountain Health Care and the hospital industry.
The Goliath referred to, however, was forced into silence in Saturday's monthly meeting of the Cache Mayors' Association. Hospital representatives were denied an opportunity to speak because the hospital has not given the association information requested in May.Eighteen of the 19 mayors in the association met in Logan to review accusations by Stewart, the association's president, that Logan Regional Hospital engaged in "fraudulent and exorbitant charges and other dishonest practices."
Hospital administrators were asked to leave the public meeting after Stewart's lengthy indictment to prevent hospital employees addressing the mayors from being identified by administrators.
After learning that the administrators planned to attend the meeting, Stewart had a Cache County sheriff's deputy brought in "just in case," he said. However, the forum was not disrupted. The mayors allowed the press to remain.
"We would have liked to have been heard last night. But I'm not going to try to second guess the association. We honored that request when they asked us to leave," said Charles Doane, administrator of Logan Regional Hospital. "We are dismayed at the charges. We are happy to give the mayors the information they have asked for."
At the end of the meeting, the mayors voted to meet with the hospital administrators to discuss the association's concerns.
However, they said the meeting would not occur until the hospital administrators gave the association the answers to 20 questions Stewart requested in May.
"It is my hope we will have the opportunity to do that this week, so we can put the matter to rest - hopefully," Doane said.
Doane said the hospital has made several requests to meet with the mayors and address their concerns. That opportunity didn't come Saturday night, however. After his introductory address, Stewart asked the officials to leave the meeting before two former hospital employees spoke. One was a nurse who accused the hospital of underpaying some of its staff.
A payroll audit demanded by former Logan Regional Hospital employee Cheryl White revealed that she was not paid for 68.3 hours of work in 1989 and 5.5 hours of work in 1990.
The hospital fired White in May after she repeatedly demanded payroll audits and complained about other problems in the department she worked for.
White addressed the association meeting to talk about problems she perceived at the hospital, including harassment and intimidation of nurses who speak up.
White said that on occasion she was ordered to falsify medical records, including orders to alter forms already signed by doctors for Medicare and Medicaid, the Associated Press reported. She also said supervisors in her department altered the notes nurses made on patient charts.
Following the meeting, White told the Deseret News that her demands for a payroll audit were ignored until she wrote a lengthy letter to Intermountain Health Care last spring listing the work she was not paid for and threatening legal action. Logan Regional Hospital is owned by IHC.
R. Michael Falck, IHC's regional vice president, wrote White in July to tell her an audit had been conducted of her 1989 payroll.
"In reviewing actual amounts accrued compared with correct amounts that should have been accrued, we find a balance of 68.3 hours. These hours will be included in your final paycheck," the July 25, 1990, letter said.
Doane also wrote White to tell her that the requested audit had been conducted of her 1990 payroll. A review of the pay periods up until the day she was fired showed that White was not paid for 5.5 hours, Doane told White in a letter.
White said one other nurse believed she, too, was underpaid. The nurse also requested an audit of her payroll, but the request was denied, White said.
"She didn't push for it because she is still working for the hospital and supporting a family," White said. "She can't risk losing her job. There are several registered nurses in the same position. They are scared to death of the hospital and the administration."
"I have not had one request come for any audit of any other payroll in the hospital," Doane told the Deseret News Sunday night. "If a request came for an audit, we would run the audit."
Doane said the discovery that White had been underpaid did not cause him to wonder if other employees had been underpaid. "We were dealing with only one individual who was very unhappy with the hospital," he said.
White and another nurse both told the mayors Saturday that nurses feared for their jobs if they spoke out about problems at the hospital. White said that shortly before she was fired nurses in her department discovered that supervisors were altering some notes the nurses made on patient charts.
White was fired shortly after those and other concerns were aired in a department meeting, she said. "They made me sign a paper saying I would never work for another IHC affiliate again."
Falck later intervened on her behalf to nullify that prohibition, she said.
Doane blames the continuing clash between the hospital and the association on Stewart. "I'm not convinced this is a problem with all of the mayors," Doane said. "Some of the mayors - primarily one individual - have concerns."
However, other mayors avow support for Stewart. Smithfield Mayor J. Kenneth Webb says he knows of only one mayor in the association - Logan Mayor Russ Fjeldsted - who does not totally support Stewart's investigation.
"I've never seen a person do his homework so well and put so much time and effort, especially when his salary is about $12 a month. He is dedicated in his cause to rectify this situation," Webb said of Stewart.
Fjeldsted told the Deseret News he does support Stewart. "We all feel strongly about hospital costs. I have just demanded that Mayor Stewart get a dialogue going (with the hospital). If we can not mediate or negotiate these charges, we are at loggerheads."
Actions the Cache Mayors' Association is considering:
- Urging the Cache County Commission and the Utah State Tax Commission to deny Logan Regional Hospital tax-exempt status.
- Asking the Logan Regional Hospital and Intermountain Health Care to post and publish price schedules.
- Requesting the hospital and IHC substantially reduce fees.
- Insisting that Logan Regional Hospital cease and desist the practice of "cost-shifting."
- Asking the hospital to give better treatment to its employees, especially nurses.
- Requesting that the hospital and IHC use their influence with other hospitals and doctors to reduce fees and treat patients and the public better.
Alice Stewart, the wife of River Heights Mayor John Stewart, was hit by a car following the monthly meeting of the Cache Mayors' Association Saturday night in which operations at Logan Regional Hospital were severely criticized.
The accident occurred at 50 North Main at 10:02 p.m.
According to Sgt. L.R. Earl, Logan Police Department, the vehicle driven by Shawn B. Jensen, Logan, struck Mrs. Stewart, 65, who was in the crosswalk. There was no indication that Jensen was speeding.
Earl said Jensen was cited for failing to yield to a pedestrian in the crosswalk.
Mrs. Stewart was treated by paramedics at the scene, and was transferred, ironically, to Logan Regional Hospital where she was listed in good condition Monday.