Beleaguered Cimarron Memorial Hospital Trustees walk

by C.F. David

In a show of unity, Cimarron Memorial Trustees Alan Shields, Richard Hitchings and John Smith, tendered their resignations in a called meeting with the Cimarron County Commissioners on Monday morning.

The three men, with varying lengths of tenure from two months to three years in their voluntary positions, had come under fire by an organized community resistance last Wednesday. The resistance was due to the three men's determination to continue a consulting agreement with Cypress Health Services of Louisiana.

Also involved in the incident was the insistence by recently appointed Hospital Administrator Rod Burrus that at least two of the trustees resign as a stipulation to his continuing at his position.

(For background, see a previously published story on page 5.)

Cimarron County Commissioner's Chairman Kenneth Maness had opened the session with a prayer imploring that those individuals strive not to hurt each other's feelings.

Maness then informed the trustees that the commissioner's had already paid for the hospital's lability insurance policy to the tune of just over $18 thousand.

Maness then made a request to the board that as soon as possible the money be put back into the General Fund. Maness told the trustees that the commissioners too, had insurance problems with the rise of liability insurance by 48 percent.

Shields, as trustees chairman, thanked the commission and suggested the bill be paid from the sales tax revenues.

Trustee Dwilene Holbert interjected and pointed out that the trustees would like to repay the money as soon as possible, but that June's payroll would be due on July 8.

“We've got to meet payroll,” Holbert said.

“Before we make payroll, we need to pay the payroll taxes,” said Trustee John Smith.

Smith and Holbert then rehashed the figures on the taxes, (state and federal), workman's comp and defendants insurance premiums and accounts payable.

“We're going back into issues. We need to address what the commissioners have asked,” Trustee Richard Hitchings said. “Somehow, someway, we need to make payments (to the General Fund).”

“Let them take $1,500 a month out of the sales tax. We'll never know we had it,” suggested Trustee Alan Shields.

The motion was seconded and passed.

Maness and the commissioners then opened the floor to public comment.

Former Hospital Board Member Janice Smith took the floor.

She immediately challenged the continued service of Burrus. “I cannot back any administrator or employee that issues an ultimatum. Rod Burrus walked off last Wednesday...deserted his job. He did not have a contract. But he did have a job and responsibilities. My opinion is he should have been more mature, professional and stayed and asked how we could work this out. A good leader-administrator doesn't divide the community. What will he do when we have another difference of opinion,” Smith said.

As to the trustees desire to keep Cypress on as a consulting entity, Smith said, “I have made no secret that I do not trust Cypress. But it's difficult to be on the board and not have someone to bounce ideas off of. But, I firmly believe there are other sources than a consulting firm.”

Maness spoke up, “I chased Alan two years to get him on this board. Susie [former commissioner Susie Williams] did the same thing with Richard. This board is not to be taken lightly...and it isn't for the weak-hearted.”

Dr. J. L. Wheeler, stood up.

“We can't offer any services,” Wheeler said .

“I don't want to lose this hospital. But, we are gonna lose it people if we can't get something done,” Wheeler left the courtroom with applause from the gallery.

Wanda Harbert, Cimarron Memorial Nursing Home's Director of Nursing was next.

“I am here as a representative of 23 people who call Cimarron Memorial Nursing Home... home,” she said.

“We [She and Nursing Home Administrator Nancy Roberts] are duty bound to notify the state when the residents' care is in jeopardy. We are there,” Harbert said.

“The state can place a temporary administrator when the financial situation provides a risk,” Harbert added.

“We are due a survey from the state at any moment,” she continued.

Harbert became emotional and Holbert left her chair to hand her tissues.

“I don't care who the CEO is, or if we have one or have a management company. If the payroll taxes aren't paid by Wednesday, we have to notify the state.”

“We have one resident who is 104; two others who are 94 and several who are in their 90s. Many of these people are so confused that if we were to move them, this could mean death for them,” she cried.

The gallery clapped once more as Harbert left the floor.

John Smith locked eyes with Harbert and spoke, “I spent most of my weekend trying to find individuals to give private loans. So Wanda, we are trying,” he said.

Maness spoke again, “May I suggest that we might open an account so people can make donations?”

The Trustees nodded.

“I asked the Keyes Bank for $100 thousand,” Shields explained. “I was there at eight o'clock this morning.”

Marlene Clifton stood.

“I'm the purchaser. I was told by Castle Rock to do it [become the purchaser] or else.”

“I've spent the last two weeks trying to get orders released; supplies for the nursing home and reagents for the lab.”

“Once we keep our doors open by paying the taxes, what good are we if we can't keep supplies?' she asked. “This has been getting worse every year. If you can't provide services, what good is it [The hospital.]?

“Are we going to be able to pay for our supplies and a loan, plus everything else,” she asked.

Mickey Hipp took the floor. Hipp first expressed his opinion that he wouldn't want to take his mother to the hospital, that it would be better to head straight for Amarillo. Asked by an employee if he wanted to go to Cimarron Memorial if necessary,” he replied probably not.

“It's gonna fall back on you,” he pointed at the trustees “and commissioners, and then that money falls back on us with taxes,” Hipp's voice boomed.

Janice Smith turned and asked Hipp if he would be willing to serve on the trustees board.

“Yes, I will,” he answered.

“I used to be an EMT,” he added, “I've taken a lot of people to that hospital. It means a lot to me. We're a small county of only about 3,500 people. But probably 100 thousand or more pass through here on that highway out there.”

When Hipp yielded the floor, Shields stood quietly, handed his resignation to the commissioners and trustees and left the court room; Hitchings and Smith stood, handed out their resignations and walked toward the door.

“Guys, don't leave, can't you stay until we get the taxes paid?” Shelly Fowler pleaded.

“I don't have to be issued ultimatums,” Hitchings replied.

Smith lingered at the door.

“Why can't we believe in people,” Fowler asked.

“If the hospital closed or sold, your sales taxes would pay for his salary,” Smith said as a way of explaining the trustees distrust of Burrus' contract.

[As the contract reads, if the hospital closes voluntarilly, or if the Trustees dismiss him on a whim, Burrus will be paid for the entire 12 months. Should he quit or be fired, the contract will run 90 days with insurance adjustments.]

Fowler then asked if the loan that had been requested of the Boise City bank was viable.

Smith thought for a few seconds then said, “This isn't a real bankable loan.”

With Smith's leaving, Assistant District Attorney Stan Manske, acting as the attorney for the county, explained that the three trustees are still office holders until such time that their replacments have been found, certified and sworn.

“And I'll relay to them that they are still on the board,” Manske said.

Holbert, as the remaining trustee at the table then asked the commissioners if they wished her to call Rod Burrus.

Commissioner Joe Bocock pointed out that the Board of Trustees was still seated.

“That's really not our decision,” Maness said.

Turning to the crowd in the courtroom Maness said, “I think we can truthfully say we have a dilemma.”

In an emergency meeting on Monday afternoon, the Commissioners transferred $10, 500 from the Sales Tax Capital Outlay to the Hospital Sales Tax M&O to have funds to fulfill the needs of the hospital.


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