Oklahoma Lawmakers Examining Financial Struggles Of Rural Hospitals

Tuesday, November 19th 2019, 9:57 pm
By: Amy Avery

Oklahoma Lawmakers said they want to make healthcare a top priority this session starting with rural hospitals.

A Broken Arrow Lawmaker hosted an interim study examining the financial issues many Oklahoma hospitals are facing because of out of state management companies.

Broken Arrow Lawmaker TJ Marti said because these critical access hospitals are an important part of many small Oklahoma towns, he wants to get to the bottom of the problem.

“Our ultimate goal is for you guys to know what empower did to this state, and this man does not have the opportunity to do this to anyone else,” said former Haskell County Community Hospital HR Director, Dana Barger.

At the beginning of October, employees at Haskell County Community Hospital found out their hospital was closing and most of them were being laid off.

Related Story – Stigler Hospital Lays Off Most Employees, Takes Bankruptcy Precautions 

Now the only part of the hospital remaining open is the ER, but they said the problems started way before then.

“We were literally just cut off with resources to do our jobs,” said Barger.

In late 2018, employees at all four of Empower HMS's Hospitals in Oklahoma — including Drumright, Fairfax, Haskell County and Prague — started to notice issues.

Related Story – Oklahoma Rural Hospital Employees Concerned 

They started noticing bills, like linens and cable, weren’t being paid. They then noticed their insurance payments hadn’t been met in months and employees stopped getting paychecks.

Related Story – Drumright Health Care Workers Fear For Future Of Rural Hospital 

The former Haskell County ER director said this was extremely difficult on her family.

“Christmas was gone, birthday gifts were gone, that cushion was gone,” said former ER Director, Jaclyn Nixon. “We had to use that money for my last six paychecks to live on.”

Related Story – Drumright Hospital Staff Still Uncertain About Future Under Empower HMS 

Haskell County Community hospital and the three other Oklahoma Hospitals formerly owned by Empower have undergone several different name changes over the past ten years, but the names of the staff on the management companies have mostly remained the same.

“These out of state management companies profit significantly, close, leave, then come back under new names,” said Representative TJ Marti.

Broken Arrow Lawmaker TJ Marti said because of his medical background, he’s been asked to investigate why rural hospitals are closing across the state.

He said access to healthcare is important for Oklahomans and believes the problems stem from out of state management companies.

“A lot of the expense surrounding these hospitals is the management, and when you can see the synergies between the regional hospitals and the small critical access hospitals, I think there’s a lot that can be done there,” said Representative Marti. “Obviously a lot of people point to Medicaid expansion but until we fix the problems, throwing more money at a problem isn’t the answer.”

Cohesive Healthcare is now managing the four hospitals in Oklahoma formerly owned by Empower for a North Carolina bankruptcy trustee.

Related Story – North Carolina Judge Orders Fairfax Hospital Employees Be Paid 

There are also several hospitals in other states, besides Oklahoma, formerly owned by Empower who are dealing with the fall out.

Many employees are still owed back wages from the company, and they’re asking the state to step in so this doesn’t happen again.

“This has been devastating to so many in our community and people are still paying for it,” said Barger. “We are going to lose lives in our town because we don’t have a hospital.” 

Representative Marti said they are going to continue to look into how they can help and what the best approach is moving forward.

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