War of words continues in hospital debate

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 2, 2002

For a while, Charles Nabors felt it was prudent to remain quiet. A Thursday article published in a metro newspaper has changed his mind.

Nabors, administrator and CEO of Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital, has become the central figure in an ongoing dispute between his healthcare facility and the Marengo County Commission.

On the surface, the dispute is linked to the county providing funds for indigent patients. The federal government has cut back Medicare funds to hospitals &045;&045; especially hospitals in rural areas &045;&045; and the Demopolis hospital has suffered from the decreased funding. Because of that, Nabors and his hospital have asked that the Marengo County Commission foot the bill for those patients, citing the Alabama Healthcare Responsibility Act as reason the county should pay.

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Beneath the surface, however, there may be much more to the war of words between commissioners and the hospital.

In the Thursday article, printed in The Tuscaloosa News, Commissioner Ken Tucker made accusations against the hospital, though he did not back them up with proof.

Nabors didn’t take well to the comment. In fact, his words stumbled with anger.

Nabors admitted there has been talk in the community of a morale problem, but he refused to allow a morale issue to become the reason for comments like the one Tucker made.

Tucker said he couldn’t expand on the comments he made earlier.

To Nabors, the issue of the county helping fund indigent patients has evolved into its own demon &045;&045; both politically and culturally.

By "north-south," Nabors refers to north and south Marengo County. And even Tucker says that plays a role in opinions.

Beyond the turf wars, Nabors said there were numerous inaccuracies in a story Tucker said was "fairly balanced."

Nabors and the hospital were accused of billing out "profit margins" to the county in an early set of bills distributed to the commission.

Nabors also said the hospital is not trying to make a profit from the commission.

One of Tucker’s concerns is that the hospital and its board of directors aren’t open about its finances. In The News’ article, Tucker indicated the hospital should hold open meetings and disclose its financial records.

Nabors said financial records are sent to Mayor Austin Caldwell’s office and that responsible people looking for the financial statements can get access to them.

To Tucker, that includes revealing the salaries of administrators at the hospital. And on that issue, Nabors doesn’t seem willing to budge.

What really matters

Beyond the sparring, what matters to the people of Marengo County is whether or not the commission and hospital can reach an agreement over the care of indigent patients.

Earlier this year, the hospital filed a lawsuit against the commission requesting money for indigent care patients. Tucker believes that put a damper on communicating openly with the hospital.

Nabors too understands that litigation hampers open discussions. That, he said, is part of the reason he has not publicly commented on this situation until now.

Tucker, just like Nabors, doesn’t like the way the squabble has evolved.

Nabors also said he wants both sides to sit down and talk.

Last week, commission members invited the hospital board to appear before them. However, that didn’t work out.

Since then, the hospital has issued an invitation to the commission for a Dec. 9 meeting. Tucker said he doesn’t believe commission members will want to attend that meeting.

If the Dec. 9 meeting does not work out, there are no immediate plans for both sides to work on the indigent care problem.