The community and Westlake employees were eager to hear what resulted from the 14 hours spent in mediation Thursday. But instead of details on the future of their local hospital, media outlets were sent a simple single paragraph press release consisting of two sentences. Leaving many fearing negotiations had failed.
The vague statement left several unanswered questions that no one seemed comfortable discussing. This matter proved very confusing to members of the press (this reporter included) that attended last week’s regular hospital board meeting where they were assured by CEO Neal Gold and board members that there was no need for them to travel to Louisville and attend the mediation considering it would be closed to the public. Gold and the board agreed to send out a report by Friday at the latest that would include details from the day. Instead, local media received the following:
“The Board of Trustees of Adair County Hospital District and the Adair County Public Hospital District Corporation held a Special Called meeting at the Federal Courthouse in Louisville, KY, yesterday, December 3, 2015, for the purpose of participating in a mediation to resolve all outstanding issues with creditors in the District and Corporation’s Chapter 9 bankruptcy. After a marathon 14 hour executive session, the Board ended the meeting with no decisions or votes.” Neal Gold, CEO
Board member speaks out
Sharon Burton, owner of Farmland Publications and publisher of the Community Voice, was appointed to the board in July. Vocal from the get-go, Burton actually addressed the hospitals lack of open communication in introduction remarks made during her first official board meeting.
Disappointed with what little information had been sent out and receiving calls and emails from concerned citizens and Westlake employees, Burton decided to take questions from the press and answer what she could without jeopardizing negotiations.
“When we had our last board meeting and announced that we would be in mediation this week, we committed to the press that we would let you all know what was going on. And I feel like we have failed to do that.”
Burton says she is no way speaking for the board as a whole and that her fellow board members may not agree with her providing additional information to the community. Despite that, Burton says as a board member, she feels like she has a commitment to the community to fulfill that obligation and summarize where we are at in the process.
“We went through a lot of negotiations on Thursday,” she began. “Most of the day involved negotiations between the banks.”
By the end of the day she says there was basically only one unresolved issue left on the table, however, with the day drawing to a close (11pm Eastern) the attorney representing a couple of the banks (neither which are located in Adair Co.), failed to get confirmation on a proposed agreement from her clients. She agreed to make contact with them on Friday and relay their responses.
“Negotiations are ongoing,” Burton assures. “And that’s what I want people to know. I’ve gotten calls from people that are kind of surmising that maybe negotiations failed yesterday and that would be a terrible thing for us. They have not failed, they are ongoing.”
She wants the community to understand that when it comes to negotiating with creditors, the only thing Westlake has to offer is future tax monies.
“So every time they come with an offer that’s higher than ours, we have to look at how many years or how much tax and that’s basically all we can do is move that number around.”
Burton was relieved to find during mediation that most of the creditors and/or their lawyers were there to work toward an agreement that was feasible for Adair County and one that would allow them to maintain a hospital in the community.
At the end of the night, Burton says she felt like the board was definitely on the same page. “I feel like we represented Adair County well. We understand the seriousness of everything – keeping the hospital open, putting taxes on future generations. These two issues collide and our job is to figure out where the best balance is and what can we live with.”
Burton believes credit should be given to fellow board members that attended and worked hard during mediation – Bruce White and Brad Keltner, as well as Gold, CFO David Hayes, and Judge Michael Stephens. And in a true sign of commitment, TJ Samson Hospital CEO Bud Wethington and their team of lawyers were in attendance Thursday.
“We have nothing to be ashamed of, I think we did a good job yesterday,” says Burton. “A lot of people are very nervous about what’s going on and I don’t think it causes any harm to the process to let people know where we are in it.”
Special Called Meeting Monday
The Adair County Hospital District and the Adair County Public Hospital District Corporation Board of Directors will convene a concurrent Special Called meeting of the District and Corporation on Monday, Dec. 7 at 12:00 p.m. CST in the Board Room at Westlake Regional Hospital.
The purpose of the meeting is to continue negotiations that began during mediation with creditors on the Chapter 9 Plan of Adjustment. The meeting is open to the public.
By Tiffany Kessler
Editor’s Note: Sharon Burton, publisher and editor of the Community Voice, is a member of the hospital board. She did not edit this article.