“That Borders on a Personal Vendetta”

By Will Johnson
Messenger Reporter

HOUSTON COUNTY – The Houston County Hospital District Board of Directors met in a regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, July 17 and within the first two minutes of the assemblage, the meeting turned somewhat confrontational.

Following the invocation, board member Dina Pipes asked if the agenda could be amended to allow the board to take action on the hospital lease agreement with Crockett Medical Center.

Pipes

After a brief discussion about the proper procedure under Robert’s Rules of Order, Board President Dr. Bob Grier called for a motion to amend agenda item eight to allow for action on the hospital lease agreement. Pipes made the motion and it was seconded by Rhonda Brown.

A second motion was made to table the item for further consideration but it was pointed out by several board members, a motion was already on the floor to allow for action on the agenda item. When the first matter was put to a vote, it failed by a margin of 2-6, with Pipes and Brown voting in favor of it.

The next area of business discussed concerned the minutes of the board’s previous meeting. A motion was made by Kathi Calvert to approve the minutes of the June 19 meeting with exclusion of written statements by both Brown and Pipes.

The minutes were approved by a vote of 4-3 and will exclude the two statements (covered in a previous edition of The Messenger) from the formal record.

Following the approval of the HCHD financial report, the area of new business was addressed by the board.

“We are dealing with a grant that came through from the Texas state government that was prepared by Dr. Patrick Walker. It was granted to the hospital. When Little River (the parent company of Timberlands Healthcare) took over they accepted that grant. The money came in and it is not clear how it was spent. We are dealing with the board that granted it to us and we are in communication with Little River/Timberlands,” Grier said.

Also under the area of new business, Pipes said she would like to discuss the procedures of the “lockbox” account held by the HCHD.

“The only practical explanation is that Timberlands/Little River routed funds through that account. Let’s be clear, that was not the board’s money,” Grier said.

“It was before Timberlands got here,” Pipes replied. “That’s what I’ve been looking at. There is a lot of money that has come in and out. When Timberlands came here, we gave them that account and gave them roughly $26 million in patient receivables. In return, they said they would pay our payables, which were $2.3 million.”

Pipes added she would like to place this on next month’s agenda to go over it in a public meeting.

“It does need to be discussed so we can move forward,” Brown said. “I also ran across an article – a recent article on June 23, 2108 – that involved Little River Healthcare.”

Brown reported the article concerned a pattern of high lab charges at Little River facilities and mentioned the Crockett hospital.

She said the authors interviewed former board president Deborah Blackwell as well as the two doctors who were the driving force behind the reopening of the hospital – Dr. Subir Chhikara and Dr. Kelly Tjelmeland.

“I was not aware of this but Dr. Kelly Tjelmeland had formerly worked for Little River. I was not aware of that until I read this article. Were you aware of that?” Brown asked Grier.

Grier said he was not while Brown distributed copies of the article found in “Modern Healthcare.”

According to the article, “The two Austin physicians reopening the Crockett hospital are quick to differentiate themselves from Little River. One of them, urologist Dr.  Subir Chhikara, called the hospital’s closure ‘… atrocious. There is no situation where a hospital operator would close a hospital and cut off healthcare in that timeline,’ he said. ‘So, they obviously have some intrinsic issues.’ The other, plastic surgeon Dr. Kelly Tjelmeland, said he briefly partnered with Little River in 2013 to expand a service line in a surgery center, but is not currently affiliated with the company.”

Grier

Changing topics, Brown said she had asked for “… two items to be placed on the agenda. One of them I have asked to be on there twice and you (Grier) removed them twice as well as another item I asked to be on the agenda. I don’t know if I need to ask that they be placed on the agenda in a public forum for next month’s meeting or if you’re prepared to discuss the three attorneys you talked to about me taking my documents into the office to match up the documents with the cancelled checks.”

Grier replied, “I’m not ready to discuss that at this time.”

A back-and-forth in regard to when Brown came on the board followed with Grier saying she wasn’t on the HCHD board at the time of the request and Brown saying she was.

A second area addressed by Brown concerned “… the financial committee meetings and inviting Deborah Blackwell to them.”

She said the committee of Grier, Calvert and herself had been formed “… but then you invited Deborah Porth Blackwell to the meeting. I just want to make sure – in a public forum – you do not intend to invite her to other meetings.”

“I will say in this public meeting,” Grier responded,  “ I will plan to invite informative people from this community, state government, county government, city government, CPAs or anyone who can contribute any information to the decision making process of this board.”

Brown questioned Grier’s knowledge of board financial information and remarked she got nothing from Blackwell’s presence the meeting.

“I was totally caught off-guard and did not think it was appropriate for her to be there. I expressed that in an e-mail to you. I know the second meeting she did not come. I don’t know if she decided not to come or if you told her not to come,” Brown said.

“I will reiterate, committees for this board can ask people to come before them for information, opinions or data that is useful to the functioning of this board from any level of state or local government,” Grier said. “In the future Deborah Blackwell may be invited back.”

Brown further questioned why Blackwell was invited and said, “Is there something you don’t know and feel she can contribute to it? She is not on the board. She is not serving anymore. I feel like you’re fluffing me up like a pillow and sticking me in a corner and saying ‘You don’t really matter. We have enough people to vote and pass any type of thing you want passed and that you don’t really need my input.”

“I don’t even know how to respond to that,” Grier said. “You are a duly elected member of this board and you are given more of an opportunity to provide your input and I do appreciate your input. However, from time to time, people who are not elected to this board will be called upon to provide information.”

Brown

Brown replied, “The voters have spoken. They do not want Deborah Blackwell on this board so I think you should be respectful enough to Dina (Pipes) and me because we went out and campaigned. The voters spoke and I don’t think it is appropriate for her to be there.”

After a moment of silence, Grier said, “I would say that borders on a personal vendetta.”

Several seconds of argumentative remarks were heard from board and audience members before Brown asked what the procedure was to get something placed on the HCHD agenda.

“I see eyes rolling down there, but I have a legitimate question Kathi (Calvert),” Brown said.

“I’m not understanding the business you’re trying to conduct with being on the agenda…” Calvert said.

“When I ask for something to be discussed and have it on the agenda, I would like for it to be discussed,” Brown said.

Grier interjected and said he felt the items Brown mentioned did not warrant placement on the agenda but “… anticipated speaking with you but I didn’t see them as business items to be brought before the board.”

Order was eventually restored as Grier indicated he would like to set up a committee to re-examine the bylaws of the HCHD and to incorporate Robert’s Rules of Order.

Brown defeated Blackwell in the May 2018 election.

In other areas of business brought before the board:

  • The building liability insurance policy for the building and parking lot was renewed.
  • The board approved moving forward on designing a website for the HCHD.
  • It was unanimously approved to prepay the ambulance service three months in advance.
  • The HCHD board also approved the continuation of lease negotiations with Crockett Medical Center.

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.