Leslie Newell Peacock reports on the uncertain future of Hope’s hospital, a tangled story that includes a recent federal guilty plea by the hospital’s owners related to another property in Texas:
Doctors at Medical Park Hospital in Hope have issued a desperate plea to state officials, including the governor, a prosecutor and the U.S. attorney for help in keeping the hospital from bankruptcy or closure.
Medical Park Hospital, which is a Level 4 trauma center with 79 beds, is the only hospital between Arkadelphia and Texarkana for people who live along the Interstate 30 corridor. It was purchased in 2008 by James A. Cheek, who was convicted with partner Herschel Breig in February for failure to pay $1.8 million in payroll taxes for employees at a bankrupt hospital they owned at Lubbock, Texas.
The letter was sent to Gov. Mike Beebe, Health Department chief Paul K. Halverson, U.S. Attorney Conner Eldridge, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, 8th district prosecutor Christy McQeen, Sen. Larry Teague and Ann Roberts, assistant U.S. attorney in Lubbock, Texas. MPH chief of staff Dr. Dale Goins, vice chief and chief of pediatrics Dr. W. Ladell Douglas, chief of radiology Dr. Lawrence Bigongiari, emergency medicine doctor Dr. Paul D. Meredith, director of trauma and chief of medicine Dr. L. Joseph Parker, chief of surgery Dr. Andrew G. Szebenyi and chief of medicine and surgery Dr. Charles A. Vermont signed the letter.
The doctors wrote that they fear that a pattern they see in Cheek’s other operations — “purchasing, bankrupting and/or closing hospitals shortly after he becomes affiliated with or purchases them” — is being repeated in Hope.
“In recent months, the obstetrical unit was closed, layoffs have occurred, hospital employees have experienced delinquent paychecks or paychecks returned for insufficient funds, premiums on employee health insurance is not being paid, creditors and vendors are not being paid, property taxes have not been paid. In fact, MPH is scheduled to be certified to the State of Arkansas Commissioner of State Lands in May 24, 2012 for failure to pay property taxes. Presently, MPH owes some $3 million in unpaid federal and state employment taxes.”
Hospital executive director Marc Caton, who was hired by Cheek last June and is also the chief executive officer of Carraway Medical Systems, said the company is “working on all those financial issues.” (Carraway purchased MPH last year from Cheek company Shiloh.)