Ripley hospital faces financial problems

Updated: Dec. 13, 2018 at 6:03 PM CST
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RIPLEY, TN (WMC) - Employees at a Mid-South hospital are angry and on edge. They haven’t been paid in nearly a week, despite promises from hospital leaders they will make payroll. Now WMC Action News 5 has confirmed the state of Tennessee is involved.

The Tennessee Department of Health said it is aware of the situation at Lauderdale Community Hospital in Ripley and monitoring it very closely. A leadership source inside the hospital said people have resigned, staffing levels are critically low, and the hospital’s malpractice insurance expires in a little more than a day.

“A lot of us have had lots of tears to shed,” said one nurse.

“Nobody wants to leave each other in the lurch,” said another.

Those two nurses said they were supposed to get paid Friday, December 7. Almost a week later, they still haven’t seen their checks and wanted their identities hidden to protect their jobs.

“There’s bills. There’s car notes. There’s mortgages. There’s kids’ daycare. There’s food. There’s kids’ Christmas,” one said.

“A lot of our employees are concerned about this, they have great anxiety as you would expect,” said Michael Layfield, Lauderdale Community Hospital CEO.

Layfield acknowledged there have been delays in payroll. But he said Thursday employees would get their money.

“Jorge Perez, who is president of our company, has assured me today that payroll will be made,” Layfield said, “We are struggling because of volumes dropping and decreases in reimbursement.”

In late November, the hospital laid off staff and closed its cafeteria. Nurses and other staffers who spoke with WMC Action News 5 said the facility has barely enough supplies to function. Some staffers are bringing them in from other jobs, and at least one procedure had to be called off because of it, they said.

“We don’t have the proper supplies. It’s bare essentials. It’s the cheapest they can order,” the nurse said.

The city of Ripley and the Lauderdale County Trustee’s office confirm the hospital is three years behind on property taxes, owing for 2016, 2017, and 2018. Ripley officials say they’re owed $186,709, and the county trustee’s office provided a figure of $164,985.50. That’s $351,694.50 in total.

The facility is run by Empower HMS, a Kansas City, Missouri-based company who prides itself on turning around distressed rural hospitals. But its CEO, Jorge Perez, was the focus of a CBS News investigation in March 2018 over questionable billing practices.

Employees at another Empower facility in Prague, Oklahoma have reported their pay has been delayed this week, according to various Oklahoma media outlets.

“If we get rid of this hospital, there are people that will have no medical care because they can’t get that far,” said one employee.

With hospitals in Covington and Dyersburg twenty minutes or more away, the staffers said the uncertainty is a risk for the whole community.

Employees at the hospital were not paid by close of business on Thursday. A manager inside the hospital told WMC Action News 5 after days of promises from company executives, there’s now no word on when they will get paid.

City and county leaders said they have not heard from the corporate offices either, and they have inquired because they are concerned about the situation.

A leadership source inside the hospital told WMC that people have resigned, staffing levels are critically low and the hospital’s malpractice insurance expires at midnight Friday.

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