McDowell in legal battle over Russell hospital

November 10, 2004|TODD KLEFFMAN

Ephraim McDowell Health is fighting to maintain control of the Russell County Hospital, even as the hospital's taxing district, backed by a group of doctors, is waging a legal battle to force the Danville company to pull the plug on its involvement there.

"We are currently running it," said Ephraim McDowell spokeswoman Mary Begley. "We believe we can deliver health care to the residents of Russell County very well and we plan to stay there."

The Russell County Hospital Taxing District, which owns the 50-bed facility in Russell Springs, filed a lawsuit Oct. 24 alleging mismanagement of the hospital and seeking to remove Ephraim McDowell Health as the operating partner. Russell Circuit Judge Vernon Miniard granted an injunction prohibiting Ephraim McDowell from interfering with hospital operations, turning control of the hospital to the taxing district.

That victory was short-lived, however. The Danville health care company quickly took that ruling to the state Court of Appeals, which stayed Miniard's injunction last week and returned control of the hospital to McDowell. But the taxing district has appealed that decision to the Kentucky Supreme Court, where the matter is pending.


"We have had it with that company," said Dr. Jerry Westerfield, a radiologist who is among the most outspoken critics of McDowell's management. "They have zero support in the hospital. We don't like them and we don't want them down here."

Trouble between McDowell and Russell County Hospital has been brewing for several months. The taxing district signed a 21-year lease in 1999 with McDowell to operate the hospital. The two sides have been at odds over whether McDowell is making the physical and technological improvements it promised when it took over the hospital five years ago.

In September, the taxing district threatened to go to court to terminate the lease if McDowell did not immediately repay a $1.7 million loan. McDowell, which operates Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center in Danville, Fort Logan Hospital in Stanford and several family clinics and other health care endeavors, reluctantly agreed to pay back that loan, but that only temporarily stopped the bad feelings, and the taxing district filed its lawsuit a month later.

Westerfield and other doctors maintain that McDowell has taken profits generated at the Russell County Hospital and applied them to the Danville company's other interests. That has prevented the hospital from getting new medical technologies and expanding its facilities, Westerfield said.

"They have not held up their end of the bargain. They have proceeded to take more out of here than they ever put in," said Westerfield, who has promised to resign on Dec. 31 if McDowell is still running the hospital. "That money is not staying here. They are putting it in the bottom line of Ephraim McDowell Health."

Begley, however, said McDowell has fulfilled its promises to the hospital and improved the services it offers. "In the last five years, we have invested almost $2.5 million in technology and refurbishing the interior of the hospital throughout," Begley said.

McDowell also has helped the hospital receive important accreditation status that it didn't have before, opened wound care and heartburn centers and recruited new doctors to the area, she said.

"Those are outstanding accomplishments, so we have invested in the Russell County Hospital," Begley said. "There are other things on the list, some of which we are constrained by lack of space at the facility, that we are working with the taxing board to address.

"We've tried to sit down with the taxing district to try to find some answers, but we've not had the success we'd like to have. We would like all the money in Russell County to go for health care of the residents, but these legal wranglings do come with a price tag."

Central Kentucky News Articles