A court case impacting several critical access hospitals here in Oklahoma is expected to go before a judge on Tuesday morning in North Carolina.
The hospitals were once owned by the company Empower HMS but have since been given to different groups to run, but their futures could all be affected by what happens in court.
We first told you about the problems happening at Drumright, Prague, Fairfax, and Haskell County Community Hospitals when the staff wasn't getting paid by their parent company Empower HMS.
Now all the hospitals now have different companies running them- but those companies still don't have complete power.
“It's just they've always counted on us and we don't want to let them down,” said Fairfax Community Hospital Chief Nursing Officer, Donna Renfro.
Chief Nursing Officer Donna Renfro has worked at Fairfax Community Hospital for 30 years.
The hospital normally has 60 employees, but right now they only have 8.
“I don’t blame them for leaving,” said Renfro. “People have had to leave to support their families.”
It's been four months since she and her co-workers have been paid,
"Right now, it's not even about the money, it's about the control of our hospital and what it's future is at this point," said Renfro.
The City of Fairfax was appointed receivership of the hospital by Osage County District Court because it was abandoned for all intensive purposes by its parent company Empower HMS earlier this year. That company is run by Jorge Perez.
Empower then split all 16 hospitals under its ownership into separate LLC’s under the name CAH Acquisition Company. Fairfax is CAH Acquisition Company #12.
“After we were appointed receiver, it was apparent that there were a lot of debts still owed by the hospital,” said Fairfax Vice Mayor, Charlie Cartwright. “So the decision was made to file bankruptcy in the Northern District of Oklahoma."
Before Fairfax could file bankruptcy, CAH Acquisition Company filed Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in North Carolina on 7 of its hospitals, including Fairfax, Drumright, Haskell County and Prague.
“We made a pleading to the North Carolina court and once got removed from that jurisdiction,” said Cartwright. “Then a petition was filed by Empower, to continue us over there and remove us from the Oklahoma bankruptcy court and that petition was granted.”
Fairfax found a company that was willing to come in and run day to day operations. But right now, the city does not have complete control of the hospital. Renfro says she just hopes the judge will remove Fairfax from the case, so the city will have more control over it’s hospital.
“My greatest prayer would be that the judge that is over the hearing kicks us out of there and says we did this once before. We dismissed them, why are they back in this”
Cartwright says during the hearing, a trustee will also appoint a company to come in and operate the hospitals during the bankruptcy proceedings.
"We believe the trustee in that bankruptcy agreement will choose cohesive healthcare," said Cartwright.
Cartwright says this process has been very costly for the city but keeping the hospital open is vital for the community because the next closest place to get emergency care is about 40 minutes away.
“It's always expensive to get these things a second life, and that's what we have here is a temporary second life," said Cartwright.
But knowing the future of their hospital is uncertain is more difficult for them to process.
“The town will suffer severely and it's going to cost lives,” said Renfro. “People need us here, just like we need them."
It’s important to note, the hospital is not shut down. They have staff in the ER, but they do not have x-ray or lab services right now. They do have a nurse and PA and say they will get people taken care of.
“We could always use paychecks, but someone has to make sure our people are safe and taken care of when they come to this hospital,” said Renfro.
The hearing is set to start in US Bankruptcy Court in the Eastern District of North Carolina at 11:00 AM Eastern Time.