Fairfax wants hospital returned

Robert Smith rsmith@pawhuskajournalcapital.com

Fairfax is formally asking for the return of its hospital.

The town has filed suit in Osage County District Court, alleging breach of contract and deceit on the part of corporate interests currently controlling Fairfax Community Hospital, a small, critical-access facility.

The Kansas City Star reported Dec. 19 that EmpowerHMS, a North Kansas City company that operates about 20 hospitals nationwide, had apparently been late in paying employees at several hospitals. The story mentions that four hospitals in Oklahoma had reported late paychecks recently.

KOTV, Channel 6, in Tulsa, reported Dec. 13 that it had learned employees at EmpowerHMS hospitals in Fairfax, Prague, Drumright and Stigler had not at that time received paychecks that were expected the previous Friday.

Empower is included in the Fairfax lawsuit as a defendant, and late paychecks have reportedly been an issue at the hospital recently. Fairfax Mayor Burley Hathcoat told the Pawhuska Journal-Capital in a telephone interview Friday that hospital employees had finally been paid and that the operators of the hospital had paid for their insurance.

Hathcoat said he didn’t know if the filing of the lawsuit Dec. 13 had anything to do with employees being paid and the insurance bill being paid.

“Hopefully, it will stir up something for us,” Hathcoat said of the lawsuit.

The town’s lawsuit seeks an injunction to bar the corporate interests that control the hospital from closing it down, and mandating the immediate turnover by those corporate interests to the town of all the buildings, equipment, furnishings, supplies, medicines and so forth needed to operate the hospital.

The Journal-Capital on Dec. 20 called the hospital and asked to speak with CEO Tina Steele, but an employee handling the telephone call said Steele would not be back at work at the hospital until Jan. 2, and that there was really no one else who could field a media question for her. The newspaper also left a message for a person listed as the chief legal counsel of EmpowerHMS, but did not hear back from that person prior to deadline.

J. Clay Christensen of the Christensen Law Group in Oklahoma City, who is representing the town, told the Journal-Capital in a telephone interview Dec. 20 that the opposing side had been served. He also explained that Fairfax does not anticipate having any difficulty dealing constructively with Indian Electric Cooperative, headquartered in Cleveland. The town’s lawsuit named IEC as a defendant because of concerns about the potential loss of electrical service for the hospital, but Christensen commented he didn’t currently anticipate trouble on that front.

With regard to the town’s request for injunctive relief against the current operators of the hospital, Christensen said he is working on getting a hearing date.

Among the key points of contention that the town’s lawsuit addresses is a promise that allegedly was made at the time the town sold the hospital, some eight years ago. The town’s lawsuit says a consideration relative to the sale was a pledge that a new hospital facility would be built to replace the existing one. The lawsuit alleges that pledges by the original corporate purchaser of the hospital and its successors in interest to build a new hospital were false.