County endeavors to reopen hospital quickly

The Yadkin Valley Community Hospital was closed by operators HMC on May 22. Per a court order, the county is working to reopen the hospital within 30 days.

County officials will be meeting with representatives from Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital this week to continue discussions regarding the reopening of the Yadkin County hospital.

County Manager Lisa Hughes said that the commissioners would be considering a variety of options to reopen the facility. The goal, Hughes said, per a court ruling last week, is for the county to find a way to reopen the hospital within 30 days.

“We’re really looking at all of our options to get somebody in there as soon as possible,” Hughes said. “The sooner the better as far as we’re concerned.”

In a court hearing held last Tuesday in Edenton, a judge ruled that HMC/CAH, former operator of the Yadkin Valley Community Hospital, was in contempt of court for defying a temporary restraining order filed by the county in an effort to keep the hospital open. The group shut down the hospital unexpectedly on May 22, claiming they were evicted from the premises by local law enforcement.

As part of the ruling, the county was instructed to “provide to the court, along with its plan to reestablish the hospital, proof of its damages, to be measured from the time of the violation (May 22) to the time of reopening. The measure of damages shall not exceed July 31, 2015, the date that the contract between the county and defendants was set to expire.”

The judge’s order goes on to state that “the county shall endeavor to reopen the hospital within 30 days of the date of entry of this order and shall provide evidence of its damages to the court within that time. The county shall be awarded its reasonable attorneys’ fees.”

In addition to paying damages and attorneys’ fees to the county, HMC/CAH was also ordered to “release patient records upon valid request and return all hospital property subject to the contract with the county to the hospital premises so that the county may elect to purchase such property for fair market value pursuant to the terms of the contract.”

Hughes said they were aware of a few items that were removed from the hospital by HMC/CAH. On Monday, Jim Tesar, a consultant hired by the county, had done an inventory of items in the building and a representative from HMC/CAH also was expected to go through the inventory at the hospital this week.

The county had been working for the past several months to find a new company to take over operation of the county-owned hospital building. When negotiations failed, HMC/CAH closed the doors of the facility, two months ahead of its July 31 lease contract.

Discussion in the court order from the June 16 hearing states that “First, defendants contend that at approximately 5 p.m. on May 22, 2015, sheriff’s deputies were surrounding the hospital and Shawn Bright, the regional vice president of Rural Community Hospitals of America who was helping to manage the hospital during this time, was informed by the deputies that defendants were being evicted from the hospital, effective immediately. At no time were any papers purporting to effect eviction provided to defendants.”

The document goes on to state that “the county proffered the testimony of Sergeant Shields of the Yadkin County Sheriff’s Office who was present at the hospital on May 22, 2015. Sergeant Shields testified that he was instructed to go to the hospital on the evening of May 22 in order to ensure that no equipment was removed from the hospital. Sgt. Shields further testified that he spoke to Mr. Bright but told him that he was not aware of any eviction proceedings and was not there to evict defendants. Sgt. Shields reviewed the affidavit of Mr. Bright and testified that statements contained in it were not accurate.”

In conclusion, the court states that “the court finds that each of the justifications for non-compliance claimed by defendants are pretextual attempts to post-hoc rationalize their willful and knowing violation of a valid court order. The court presumes that the county would have remained ignorant of defendants’ plan to close its sole hospital but for its fortuitous discovery of the closure from DHHS. The county acted expeditiously to secure a restraining order to prevent the closure and took the proper steps to ensure defendants’ knowledge of the order. Defendants must be held accountable for their flagrant disregard of a court order and woefully thin attempts to justify their actions.”

Kitsey E. Burns may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.

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