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Letter to the Editor

By   /   June 9, 2012  /   Comments



I write to identify two errors in the article “Group opposes Palmyra lease”, and to respond to the guest commentary, both of which appeared in The Albany Herald on May 22. I was quoted as saying the members of the Hospital Authority “should have immediately called for the resignation of all top officials involved”. I informed Mr. Fletcher the members of the various hospital boards, who are directly responsible for operation of Phoebe Putney, should have demanded the resignations of the hospital’s chief administrators once they learned these individuals had systematically violated federal antitrust laws. I further stated the Hospital Authority should have terminated the lease, after they confirmed the allegations in the lawsuit filed by Palmyra were true.

Neither the Hospital Authority nor the various hospital boards have provided the community with any explanation or apology for these illegal business practices, and the individuals responsible have not been reprimanded or disciplined. This inaction suggests an indifference to flagrant violations of federal antitrust laws.

Dr. Culbreath and Mr. Griffin, chairmen of Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and Phoebe Putney Health System, respectively, assert the boards which ostensibly operate the hospital “have been exceptional stewards of their assets”. They argue the Hospital Authority should lease Palmyra to them, even though this would essentially reward the hospital administration for criminal behavior. These gentlemen are presumably unfamiliar with comprehensive scholarly research, which confirms consolidation of competing hospitals results in higher health care costs. Indeed, the prospects of increased costs is one of many concerns which are conspicuously absent from their commentary. Dr. Culbreath and Mr. Griffin address none of the concerns expressed by the community, which leads one to suspect they are confident the Hospital Authority will not consider any other options.

Members of the various Phoebe boards have set idly by as health care costs in this community have escalated beyond the national average, and businesses owned by and employing individuals serving on these boards have had contracts with the various Phoebe entities, a practice which is questionable at best. They have been on hunting trips and retreats, and regularly attend events, which individuals serving on nonprofit boards should not expect or accept. Dr. Culbreath and Mr. Griffin provide no explanation of their failure to investigate the questionable business practices which culminated in their decision to provide the Hospital Authority with $195 million to purchase Palmyra. And these gentlemen have the audacity to claim they “have been exceptional stewards of their assets”.

The boards in question recently refused to release documentation verifying the sums the various Phoebe entities have paid to lawyers and the business owned by the chairman of the county commission since 2005. They contend the boards are not subject to the Open Records Act. Should the citizens of Dougherty County trust boards which refuse to release such information to the public, particularly when the county commission appoints members of the Hospital Authority?

It is absolutely untrue when Dr. Culbreath and Mr. Griffin say: “Those who oppose [the lease] offer no alternative solution that guarantees access to all and burden to none”. Dr. Stubbs has urged the Hospital Authority to retain a health care economist, who can provide a detailed projection of how consolidation of the two local hospitals will impact health care cots. Dr. Stubbs has also identified various hospital management companies which would lease and operate Palmyra. The Hospital Authority could also sell Palmyra to a for-profit entity.

This would, in my opinion, be preferable, as the second hospital is now uniquely positioned to improve health care in this community. Palmyra recently obtained a certificate of need for obstetrics, which would be transferred to the new owners, and Phoebe Putney would not dare engage in the anti-competitive business practices which have already costs $195 million. The for-profit hospital would pay property tax, and offices of physicians affiliated with the new hospital would remain on the tax roll. Either option, leasing the hospital to an entity other than Phoebe, or selling Palmyra, will preserve competition, and thereby reduce health care costs in this community.

I challenge Phoebe to release the detailed statistical   information accumulated by the FTC during its investigation into the proposed purchase of Palmyra, as well as the sworn statements obtained fro two members of the Hospital Authority. This information would explain why that agency filed suit to protect consumers in Dougherty and surrounding counties, and would further assist the public in determining who is truly engaged in a “campaign of misinformation.”

Kermit S. Dorough, Jr.


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