The Chatham County Hospital Authority met for the first time Tuesday since a deal with Novant for a financial partnership with Memorial dissolved abruptly last Month. “We still want to investigate other parties and to work with Memorial’s board, that’s our goal here,” said Don Waters who is the chair of the Authority.
And while Authority members say the most important thing is saving Memorial and serving the community, there was still some tension leveled at Memorial officials, specifically CEO Maggie Gill who blamed the Authority for Novant’s departure. “There were and continue to be numerous statements made in the public arena that the failure of the Novant deal was the Authority’s fault. We categorically reject those accusations,” said Art Dana, a member of the Authority board.
The Authority passed several resolutions including calling for an audit to determine the hospital’s financial health which it said will assist in finding a future partner. But it may also assist in finding answers to new questions. “We are aware of significant discussions regarding prior arrangements between the health system and Novant.,” said Dana. “The Authority believes the community has the right to know such details of historical relationships with Novant and whether the community was misled with regard to any financial relationships that may have benefited Memorial leadership.”
Curtis Lewis a member of Memorial Health’s board said “there’s absolutely no side agreement with Novant and I don’t know where these allegations are coming from.”
Lewis said speculation that Gill stood to benefit from Novant’s partnership is just that, speculation.
Still, Authority Board members said that the original request had come from the head of the Chatham County Commission. “So Chairman Al Scott asked that we request all Novant documents,” said Waters.
“The Authority calls on the health system to actively address this matter by releasing the documents and any votes there on,” said Dana. “If the health system will not act to clearly and unequivocally answer the questions, then we may be left with no other choice but to use legal action to obtain them.”
The County is involved because back in 2004 when Memorial was in financial trouble, Chatham County issued more than $160 million in bonds to assist the hospital. The Authority, which owns the grounds and assets of Memorial, leased the facility back for $1. As part of the bond deal and to oversee its investment, the County insisted that four members of the Authority board also become members of the Memorial board so they could sit in on meetings and report back to the Authority. But Waters says recently, those Authority members have been pressured by Memorial’s lawyers. “Our Authority members who sit on the Memorial Board were instructed by counsel for the hospital that they could not share information with us. So we are asking the Georgia Attorney General to render an opinion on that question,” said Waters.
Waters says he’s not sure what Memorial may not “want reported back to the Authority” but says he views it as the duty of Authority board members to offer information on how Memorial is conducting business, especially now since the hospital is in need of a financial boost. Waters says because the Authority holds the lease on the hospital’s land and assets, it remains essential that the Authority be part of any deal made with a new partner.