Hospital Trustees continue Cypress consult, table CEO's contract

by C.F. David

The Board of Trustees for Cimarron Memorial Hospital decided on two separate votes to continue consulting with Cypress Health Systems of Benton, La., and to table discussion and a decision about the employment contract for Rod Burrus, as CEO.

The Memorial Nursing Home's Physical Therapy room was filled with about 35 citizens, (including hospital personnel) to hear the trustee's decisions and to voice their own opinions. Perhaps as many as forty more sat in the adjoining Garden Room. Windows between the two rooms were opened and a sound system was in use.

Trustee Chairman Alan Shields made reference to the large number of citizens present and asked for any input. Response was slow in coming.

Trustee Dwiline Holbert took the microphone and read a statement to the effect that she had contacted several individuals, (including The Boise City News) and encouraged them to attend the meeting.

Holbert's stance was obvious; she was requesting the board cease the Cypress consultation and to sign off on Burrus' contract for at least a year.

Trustee Linda Burns was not present at the specially called meeting. However, the other three trustees, Shields, Richard Hitchings and John Smith, maintained their support for retaining Cypress' consultation services.

The original Cypress consultation contract drawn up and signed in August of 2003, specified that they be paid $4,000 per month. However, according to Trustee John Smith, only about $2,600 has been paid over the past nine months, leaving a balance of about $34,000 owed.

Smith said the Bird had told he, Burrus and Shields that Cypress would “Wipe the slate clean and not invoice Cimarron Memorial for any more services rendered.”

“We called him back to clarify that and that's what he said,' Smith emphasized.

Cypress is a hospital managment company headed by Kim Bird, brother of former Cimarron Memorial CEO Alan Bird who guided the facility from early 2003 to August when he left for a similar position with a Cypress Hospital in Florida.

Burrus, who has been on the job since late May, is the fifth CEO to try and helm Cimarron Memorial in just over a year. Burrus followed Jo Pierce, Alan Bird, John Smith and Sharon Cox in an attempt to get a handle on what is perceived by many to be a precarious financial situation. According to figures released by Burrus on Tuesday, the hospital has accounts receivable of nearly $1.5 million owed to them for services rendered; nearly one-third of that amount is less than four months old. Additionally, the hospital has an average monthly income of about $22 thousand from the recently passed sales tax, which will run for the next 36 months; meaning a windfall of just over three-quarters of a million dollars.

In addition there are debts; most threatening, according to Burrus, the payroll taxes are estimated (the employees haven't been paid for June) at just over $180 thousand (Federal and state taxes, workers comp and dependant insurance are included in the figure).

Holbert inquired of Burrus if he had met with Shields, Smith and [Kim] Bird; and he responded in the affirmative.

Bird had arrived after a visit to a Cypress Hospital in Fairview and the meeting, between he and Burrus, was arranged by Shields “..so they could meet as men.”

Burrus continued that he had felt that Bird had been condescending in the meeting and had recommended that he [Burrus] not be in any hurry to pay the hospital's vendors.

Burrus said that Bird had referred to him [Burrus] as being a “...baby administrator” in reference to his fledgling status.

Shields admitted that the meeting had gotten out of control and that very likely Bird and Burrus had “...both said things they shouldn't have.'

“I didn't say anything...and I probably should have,” Shields admitted.

“They've been involved in hospitals for many years; they know ...” Smith said.

Some members in the audience made it clear they felt Cypress had an agenda to advise the board and then purchase the hospital if and when it closed.

“They said they had no interest in buying the place,” Smith replied.

Another observer stated that they felt that by keeping Cypress when the hospital had a CEO, was like having two managment teams overseeing the hospital.

“Why do we need Cypress?” asked Nancy Kline.

“What have they done?” interjected Holbert.

Smith replied that the firm had provided consulation to the board.

“I don't know Kim Bird; he's just a man walking down the street,” said hospital employee Chad Hughes. “But I know Rod Burrus; I see him every day; he's here talking to us.”

“We haven't had morale this high in months,” said another employee. “He's out here helping us, talking to us; it makes no difference what department,” she continued.

Another observer asked why the hospital should have to pay a salaried employee and a consultant.

Smith again pointed out that Bird had agreed to “...consult for free.”

Marty Albright asked if the Trustees had thought about getting medical interns to help staff the hospital.

Dr. J.L. Wheeler raised his hand and pointed out that such students would be in their second-year and in need of close supervision.

Wheeler waved at Burrus, “But what I want to know is, we have a capable administrator. What do we need with a consulting firm?” he asked.

The Rev. Frank Lynch stood and asked the Trustee's about rumors of “pre-meetings” implying that some trustees might have violated the open meetings law.

Assistant District Attorney, Stan Manske, acting as the Trustees legal counsel, took the question.

Manske explained that the Trust Authority is a new entity and as such, “...has no history.”

“They can receive information in groups of two,” Manske explained.

Manske continued that he felt that the trustees would be ill-advised if they did not contact an individual passing through town that might be able to shed light or give information they might need to do their best in making decisions about the hospital.

The Rev. John Miller stood and said with a shrug, “Good advice, bad advice? The time is now to move on; it's time to forget the past.”

Miller, surrendered the floor with a nod at Burrus, “And I'm in favor of this man being our administrator.”

Janice Smith stood next. Smith is a former nurse and once sat on the now disbanded Cimarron Memorial Hospital's Board of Control.

Speaking of Cypress and their plan to “Consult for free,” Smith said, “You don't get something for nothing folks.”

“They have an agenda.”

Smith made the claim that as a Louisiana company, Cypress would be liable under their laws.

‘Louisiana laws are friendly toward management companies; Oklahoma isn't,” Smith said.

“As far as I can tell they [Cypress] will have no liability.”

“When Alan [Bird] left here to go to work for his brother, we came within inches of losing our nursing home because when Donna [Cain] quit he took both jobs,” Smith said.

When Smith stepped away from the microphone, Trustee Hitchings reminded the observers of Rev. Miller's words and asked that the past be left there.

In response to Ms. Smith's charges, Trustee John Smith looked at Burrus and said, “If it weren't for Cypress, this man wouldn't be here.”

The trustees then made a motion to go into Executive session; after being behind closed doors for more than an hour, they returned and in the first motion, Hitchings asked that the Cypress connection be preserved as “...one of their charity cases,”

It was seconded by Smith. The motion passed with Hitchings, Smith and Holbert voting aye.

In the second motion, Holbert asked that the decision on Burrus' contract be tabled until the complete board could be present; Hitchings seconded and the motion passed, with he, Smith and Holbert voting aye.

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