Polk County, TN Sheriff wants to add deputies to police force

Polk County Sheriff Steve Ross would like to add deputies in order to patrol the county better. According to Ross, there is currently one deputy on each side of the county during the hours of 3am-3pm. He said that was unsafe for the deputies and made it difficult to get everywhere. He said if a deputy was patrolling in Springtown and got a domestic violence call in Old Fort, they would just have to hope it didn’t get too bad before they got there.

An overall increase of more than $800,000 is reflected in the proposed budget for the Sheriff’s Department. Sheriff Steve Ross said that included a $1.25 raise. He said he did not have to hire anyone new to comply with internal controls regulations, but he wanted to add new deputies and correctional officers.

Ross said they could increase the number of state inmates by 20 in order to pay for the new deputies, but they would also need to add correctional officers to deal with the increase. He said there would also need to be a one-time expense of about $40,000 to add bunks for the new inmates. There are currently about 138 inmates in the jail, and room for about 154. Ross said there are 30-50 locals. Ross also requested a one-time expense of adding computers to the patrol vehicles. He said if the officers were able to write and send in reports from their vehicles instead of having to go back to the justice center it would mean more of a presence.

Karen Bracken asked if there was really that much crime. Ross said they were trying to give better service, and quipped that the burglars knew they only had one officer on duty. John Hoyt Pippenger pointed out that it was also unsafe for the deputies not to have any backup. Ross said there was a recent incident where two citizens had to stop to help a deputy.

The new officers would also require patrol vehicles, which would be about $110,000. Mark Bishop asked if the new patrol vehicles would be cars or SUVs. Ross said SUVs were more expensive, but he was not sold on having only SUVs regardless. He said he did not want to see a chase down Hwy. 30 in a truck. He said the detective and sheriff vehicles did have 4WD.

Health Department grant will bring walking track to Benton, Tennessee

A grant for the Health Department will mean a walking track around the community ballfields in Benton. County Executive Hoyt Firestone said the state had multiple programs to provide money to governments and other non-profit organizations to get people healthier and combat diabetes. The funds were awarded, but county commissioners had to vote to accept them. Joyce Clem with the Health Department said the grant was for $30,000 and would come in two allotments of $15,000. The county will have to do bids for the project, but will not have to contribute money. Commissioner Mark Bishop told the board he was surprised they got the grant because it had been applied for several times before. He said people walk all the time during football practice at the fields.

Karen Bracken said the grant talked about people monitoring the use of the track and ask how that would be done. She also asked what would happen with maintaining the track once the grant funds went away. Clem said they did not have an exact plan for monitoring the use, but it was part of the plan and they wold figure it out. She said it would likely be members of the Polk County Health Council. She said often in these type of projects local people would contribute to the upkeep with donations. Bishop said in Cleveland people can buy a bench or a tree to help.

Donna Calhoun said there were multiple programs going on in the county to get people walking, and that participants in Polk Walks had just logged 5900 miles. Wild Jean Pippenger said there were walking tracks at Copper Basin Elementary and South Polk that had wonderful community support.

$1.5 million needed to approve budget requests; committee again questions unapproved election office employees

The County Commission is looking at an overall budget increase of at least $1.5 million this year if everything in the budget requests is approved. Commissioners looked at requests from several offices last week, including the Sheriff’s Department, Election Office, County Clerk, Register of Deeds, and Trustee. All offices put a $2.50 pay increase into the budgets except the Sheriff’s Department, which added $1.25.

The inclusion of part-time workers in the election office were questioned again this year. Two part-time office workers were paid from a line item for election day workers last year, but have been moved to their own line in this year’s submitted budget. Budget Committee Chairman Buster Lewis asked how the office ended up with two workers. Deputy Administrator Nathan Hitson said he did not feel comfortable answering that, and it was best to ask the Administrator. Administrator Steve Gaddis was not at the meeting.

Karen Bracken asked if they were there all the time or there because it was an election year. Hitson said they were there all the time. Mike Curbow asked if they were really needed all the time. Hitson said he could always find uses for them.

Budget Director Kelley Morgan said one of the workers had been there since the last election and the other was brought in during May of 2015 for two weeks when Hitson was on vacation, but has been there ever since. Curbow said Gaddis did not go to the commission to ask if he could add part-time employees. Morgan said they talked about it last year at a budget meeting. Bracken said they were already there; Morgan said that was the point, adding she had been “beat up” by Bracken via email all day about her request to add employees. Bracken said it was her job to ask questions.

Lewis said Gaddis’s employees were county employees and he was supposed to come before the commission before adding them. Sheena Gaddis said it was Steve Gaddis’s job to be over his personnel as a state employee. Morgan said they were county employees, which had to come through the commission. Bishop asked if all of his $58,700 was paid by the state. Hitson said a potion was.

Sheena Gaddis asked if all the election workers would have to come through the commission in that case. Morgan said they were temporary and that was different. Sheena Gaddis asked if it was in the handbook that hiring had to come through the commission. Morgan quipped that everyone should just hire whoever they wanted to, then. She said they beg every year and it had always been done that way. Sheena Gaddis said there were a lot of things always done that needed to be looked at. Mark Bishop asked about reimbursement from the state for the presidential election. Hitson said it would be roughly $20,000 but they did not have it yet.

The budget request for the Register of Deeds is up about $9000. Kandi Bramlett said she has had a 1-day part-time person in her budget, but it may need to be 2-3 days a week to meet the regulations for segregation of duties.

The budget request for the county commission will remain about the same depending upon insurance costs. County Clerk Angie Sanford requested commissioners look into purchasing a sound system for the meetings so that she and the audience could hear what is being voted on.
The budget request for the County Executive’s office decreased by $4200.

The request for the Assessor of Property went up about $33,000. Randy Yates said that was mostly the raises and step increases. He said there was $9000 for a large printer/plotter, and would also need to replace a computer that was so old it did not run the software any more. Pippenger said those expenses could be taken out of the budget and amended in as one-time expenses.
Yates said there was a county-wide reappraisal coming up and he would be coming back to the commission to ask for part-time help to prepare for that in January. He said the state had cut back on the helpers available. Bishop said the state cuts and cuts and then come in to say people have to be added. “They come in and tell a rural county they have to spend $700,000 or they will withhold money,” Bishop grumbled.

In the Trustee’s Office, Gina Burchfiel looks to make a part-time position into a full-time position. She said her spreadsheet on segregation of duties only worked properly when that person is there. Burchfiel said they also had a satellite office, but that person could not take the deposits if they handled money. Karen Bracken suggested another person in the building could take the deposit. County Executive Hoyt Firestone said that wouldn’t work. Bishop said he would not want someone else handling his money.

Bracken said different spreadsheets could be used depending upon how many people were in the office at any given time. Morgan said the whole purpose of being segregated was that everybody was doing something different. She said it was not segregated if everybody was still touching the same thing.
Sanford said her budget made a part-time position into a full-time position, but she would check with the state to make sure different spreadsheets could be used on different days. Firestone said that was not what the spreadsheets were about. Bracken said she asked Gary Hayes if people could be pulled form other departments and he said they could. Buster Lewis said Gary Hayes would tell everybody everything they wanted to hear.

Morgan said there was no way she was going to pull Ivy out of Kandi’s office and ask her to make journal entries when she did not know what she was signing off on. She said she also did not want to be responsible for taking a million-dollar deposit to the bank for the Trustee’s office.
Sanford said the full-time position would be for a bookkeeper that did not touch the money. She said each person in her office was doing things they were not supposed to do according to the spreadsheets. Sanford said she also had two very old computers that needed to be replaced, but had designated money to do it.

The Circuit Clerk’s office will not need to add anyone to comply with internal controls. Their budget contains an increase in jury fees due to an upcoming trial where the jury will likely be sequestered. Connie Clark said it was up in the air if the trial would be in Ducktown or Benton.
Clark said the state reimbursed $1000/day for a sequestered jury, but that the rooms were $69.99 a night and jurors would have to be bussed to the courtroom.

Bracken said a decrease in membership in the schools would enable commissioners to save over $100,000 in funding for the school system. She said membership was based on the number of students in periods 2, 3, 6, and 7, and each period was weighted differently. Bracken said they could lower the amount given to the school system to 69¢ instead of 73¢ and commissioners should take that into consideration.

West Polk Fire & Rescue to finish project at Station 1

West Polk Fire and Rescue should be on the way to finishing work on Station #1 in Benton. Polk County, TN Commissioners previously voted to donate $50,000 to finish the work needed to get the trucks under cover. Of the three bids that were opened during the May commission meeting, Fire Chief Steve Lofty said two of them did not meet specs. The third bid, from Premier, was accepted. Lofty said $35,000 would be to erect a building, and $14,000 would be for concrete and labor.

Pippenger said he thought the previous vote to donate $50,000 was to finish work on the building. Lofty said it was going to cost less to erect a building that will connect. Bishop said he brought it up initially, and the intent was to get the trucks under cover. He said the original plan would have meant the roof had to come off, walls extended, and the roof replaced.

Lofty said 30 feet would come off the building, but there would be an additional 1500 feet once the new structure went up. Bishop said he didn’t see any difference in how they did it as long as the apparatus was in the dry. He said the trucks were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Pippenger asked if the new building would hook onto the back of the current one. Lofty said it would. He said there would then be two bays on the back and three bays facing the highway.

Lofty said they’d hoped to get it done before the end of the budget year, but could not. He asked how the appropriation of money would work. Bishop said they money allowed this year would fall into the fund balance, and it would be re-appropriated. Lofty thanked the board for all their support. He said he thought that before he retired next year the county would be getting some good news about how high the fire department was ranked.

Polk County, TN is desperate need of Library Director, Budget Committee told

County budget work for the 2016-2017 fiscal year is underway. Jenny Rogers told the board the library was again asking for a Library Director. She said the county would never be able to break the cycle of economic struggle if they were not able to provide residents with the same opportunities for learning other counties have. Rogers said Polk County was the only county without a Library Director since the 1980s.

According to Rogers, adding a Library Director would enable the libraries to have year-round programs based on what the community needed. She said there was a huge influx of folks coming in to the libraries to do research for jobs, and they could potentially provide classes for excel spreadsheets, word, quickbooks and others. Rogers pointed out there were a large number of people who did not have computers or access to the internet other than the library.

Rogers said a Director would supervise, develop programs, engage with the community about what they wanted, and seek out grants. She said there was a grant that could pay for 80% the library’s internet, but it had to be done by an employee. She said the librarians had their hands full doing their jobs, adding that having one librarian on staff in a library our size was unheard of.

The position is being requested according to the county’s payscale. A request last year was made at a higher level of pay. She said they would be limited on who they can get at that pay level, but would look for someone enthusiastic, good with computers, and good with people. Rogers said the only other change to the library budget was a $600 increase in supplies. She said they were stretched to the limit and would be needed to replace fluorescent lights this year.

Programs available at the library are done by volunteers, but a Library Director would bring more.

Programs available at the library are done by volunteers, but a Library Director would bring more.

Arthur Bigham explained that the library board was like any other board and could no go into the library and tell them how to do anything. He said they could not settle issues or serve as a supervisor and that would fall on the County Executive, who had better things to do. He said a Library Director would be able to manage the libraries.

Amanda Stiles, who volunteers at the West Polk library, said they did everything piecemeal. She said one person does one thing and another does something else. Stiles said she works full-time and was only off 8 weeks a year. She said there were 95 kids at the Christmas program held last year and the community was starving for those types of programs.

Rogers said things were falling through the cracks but that is was no one’s fault because it was no one’s job. She said Meigs County had 17 teens involved in programs and Polk County had nothing for teens. Stiles said they had programs for younger kids, but not teens. She said the need was there and the public wanted it.

Third meeting of Copper Basin Medical Center Board does not bring solution to hospital woes

A third meeting of the Copper Basin Medical Center District Board did not lead to much business being transacted. Concerned employees, along with patients of Dr. Mahmood Siddiqui, packed the cafeteria of the hospital to express their thoughts last Tuesday, May 31st. The special meeting had been set up by five members of the board, but two of them were not on hand. Randy Collins and Frank Shinpaugh, both relatively new members of the board, were absent. Board Chairman Doug Collins said the two did not know what they were getting into when they signed the letter calling the meeting. One was “flustered,” Collins said.

Collins said he was not sure why a letter had to be sent to call the meeting. He and Ron O’Neal were the only two not to sign the letter, which said the purpose was to “take action on the management of the hospital, the ER, and the position of Dr. Mahmood Siddiqui.” Collins said Frank and Randy felt lied to and thought it would just be discussion, not action. Bea Tallent said no one said it would just be discussion, and that the two did not know what to do after receiving threatening calls and messsages over the weekend. Collins said he would have called a meeting if he had been asked; Tallent said she did not believe he would have.

Tallent said she had been there 11 years and this was the worst she had ever seen the hospital. Collins pointed out that no bank payments had been missed, and that the late charges came because they never knew when the money was coming in. He said the meeting the Tuesday before had gone much more smoothly than the one that Monday, indicating that was because, “certain people were not here.”
“Do you not think the board is going to take care of this the best way we can,” Tallent asked. She said changes needed to be made. Tallent said bad management is what put them where they are.

Collins said there had been 8 administrators over the years and nothing had changed. He said th eone thing that had been constant was Dr. Siddiqui. While that comment received a round of cheers from the crowd, Collins pointed out he did not mean that as a good thing. Crowd members said Dr. Uhlik and Dr. Jabaley had also been there, asking why Collins would point out only one doctor. Another said they thought the meeting was about the hospital. One said they did not want Siddiqui to go, but did not want CEO Anna Clark to go, either. Another asked why they did not work together to fix what was wrong.

Board member Jack Collins said administration should be on top of management, employees, and accounts receivables. He said 10 months ago Clark was asked about AR and she said the problem was admissions. A month and a half later, Jack Collins said, billing was the situation. He said a month or two after that it was coding, and the board gave permission to have coders certified. Collins said a couple months after that there was an issue with a computer program, and that for the last 2-3 months, it was a problem with the ER.

“When is our administrator gonna back up and say it’s my fault and what I’m gonna do to fix it? That’s my question,” Jack said, adding that for the past 10-11 months it was always someone else’s problem.
Clark said there were many different reasons behind the problems and she had always laid those things out. She said it was difficult for everyone to understand, but she couldn’t turn things around on a dime. Clark pointed out it takes several years to increase a rate with medicare and she was the only one to get money back from Medicare.

Clark said there was not enough to sustain a small hospital, pointing out the amount of regulation to bear. She suggested the hospital needed to partner up with someone else. Jack Collins said Clark was asked on March 29th of things would be alright in 3-4 months and responded they would be okay. He said five days later, Clark said they had no money. Clark said she could not control when they got money. She said she also said in October they were at a crossroads and needed a game plan. Clark said they were struggling and asked if it mattered what the name on the outside of the hospital was as long as they stayed open.

Dr. Mahmood Siddiqui speaks to Mitchell Hicks and Doug Collins, while local ambulance director Jamey Nicholson speaks with Bea Tallent.

Dr. Mahmood Siddiqui speaks to Mitchell Hicks and Doug Collins, while local ambulance director Jamey Nicholson speaks with Bea Tallent.

Dr. Siddiqui said he was not against anyone and was for the hospital. He said it was a shame he was being called into question. He said Clark had promised AR would be better in 3-6 months, but it had gone up since then. Clark said it had not gone up. Siddiqui said it was absurd to blame the doctors.
“We are providers, it is our job to provide. You bill and collect,” Siddiqui said. He said the ER doctors had not been paid in a month and Clark had said they would not be paid. “I could have abandoned this place and I did not. When you question my integrity and loyalty, I say shame on you,” Siddiqui said. Doug Collins asked Siddiqui if he had signed his charts. Siddiqui said he had. He said he got a note from Clark that a chart had been missing, and pointed out he sees 300 patients.
An employee said there was a problem with patients being admitted to the hospital. She said there were only 3-4 currently admitted and asked why they were being sent to Fannin. Siddiqui said all the transfer had been reviewed and none were inappropriate.

Lisa Cook, nurse at the hospital, said everyone had to work together. She said everyone was so busy pointing fingers they lost sight. She said as a patient at the hospital she knew billing was horrible, and it was not just her. Cook said she did not lay all the problems at Clark’s feet and that the downfall began with previous administrator Brandon Jolley. “Anna inherited this mess. There is a lot she has done I don’t agree with, but a lot she has done right,” Cook said. She said trying to destroy the reputation of Dr. Siddiqui was not the right thing and the ER docs went above and beyond.
Cook said Dr. Shah had paint for the paint when the ER needed it and worked at a free clinic when not at the hospital. She said Dr. Satterfield bought furniture. Cook said Dr. Siddiqui was not someone you wanted to get rid of, he was someone you wanted to keep, adding that she built her house at the same time he did and he went out of his way to search for materials at a fraction of the price while she went for convenience. Cook scoffed at the idea Siddiqui was making money off the backs of them.
Cook asked what would happen if just one patient was made non-emergent, was sent away, and died. She asked what they were truly saving. “You still have to pay me and Dr. Siddiqui the same,” she said, adding, “Why can’t we get together in one mind, one accord? We’re smart enough here to put our minds together. There’s ways we can get together to save money,” she said.

Several of Siddiqui’s patients and nurses also spoke on his behalf. One said he had come to her home to pick her up to go to the doctor when he was worried. Another spoke of a husband who didn’t feel good and didn’t appear emergent, but was sent to Erlanger by Dr. Siddiqui where they learned he was within 24-48 hours of death. Patients also spoke of billing issues, saying they were often not billed until they got a collection letter demanding payment. Clark said billing had long been a problem and that the hospital had an antiquated system of codes that was being worked on. She said they relied on the system, but were having to tweak it manually.

Lola Farmer said she’d had two children in the hospital and her dad had worked 40 years at the company having money taken from his check to help pay for the hospital. She said it hurt her to see people who claim to be Christian vilifying Dr. Siddiqui. Farmer said they needed to get down on their knees and ask God to forgive them. She said every one of them owed him an apology. One employee said she was confused and asked if backing Siddiqui meant they were against Clark. Another pointed out “every other hospital in the world” billed for crutches and other items.

A nurse said she should not be asked in the middle of the night to collect money from patients and registration should do that. She said she just wanted to take care of her patients. “Nurses are asked to do that,” Tallent saked. The nurse said there was an emergency room fee of $100 for patients who were non-emergent to continue getting treatment.

Jack Collins asked if Clark and Siddiqui could sit down and talk about the contract. Siddiqui said he would absolutely talk about it. Siddiqui said it was said explicity at the last meeting the ER docs would not be paid. He said Clark was fracturing the fabric and creating chaos. Siddiqui said the docs were fed up, but would not walk off. He said if they could not run the hospital, no one could. Siddiqui said doctors were not billers and coders and asked that they not be kicked in the rear end.

Clark said she appreciate everyone coming out, but that they had to make tough decisions sometimes. She said she went many months trying to get Dr. Siddiqui to be compliant and she did not have that problem with other doctors. Clark said it was simple stuff that Siddiqui had been told over and over. Siddiqui said he had never been told. He said in a year and a hald Clark had only been to his office once. “How far can we go for someone who does not comply,” Clark asked, adding she did not like making these decisions, but it was a tough environment.

Polk County, Tennessee County Commission notes for May, 2016…

Eric Brooks is now Polk County’s attorney. Commissioners discussed the appointment last month, but put it off to ensure no other applications came in. None did. Retiring County Attorney Jimmy Logan will still be utilized for litigation.

An interlocal agreement between Polk and Bradley Counties for misdemeanor probation services will continue through 2019. County Executive Hoyt Firestone said the service brought it just over $41,000 through April, and would bring in more before the end of the year. The approved proposal matches the one currently in place.

Commissioners are continuing to balk at a past invoice from Aramark, a company perviously contracted to provide food at the Justice Center. County Attorney Eric Brooks prepared a letter to send to Aramark offering half the billed amount. He asked commissioners if they wanted to proceed with sending it.Eric Brooks said if the company did not accept 50% of what was due and turned it over for collection or to an attorney, the county would automatically have to pay more. Commissioner Karen Bracken said the contract with Aramark said they would send timely bills, and they did not do that. The bill in question was discovered after an Aramark audit and initially brought up last November.
Commissioner John Hoyt Pippenger made a motion not to send them anything because they were in breach of contract by not sending the bill on time. Commissioner Sheena Gaddis seconded the motion. Firestone pointed out the county received the service.

Commissioner Greg Brooks had made a motion at a previous meeting to offer 50% of what was billed. He asked if that had ever been done. Eric Brooks said that is what the letter was for, he just wanted to ensure this was how the commission wanted to proceed. Polk County News Editor Cheryl Buehler said as a business-owner who made frequent mistakes, she did not understand why the board could not be understanding about a mistake. She said the county got the stuff and should pay for it. William Bracken said when the new contract was awarded a few months ago, it was said that Aramark was not doing a good job. Commissioners agreed to send the letter offering 50% of the invoice. Greg Brooks said Aramark would not just immediately go to court, and would send an offer back. Pippenger withdrew his motion to send nothing since the previously passed motion was for 50%.

A Memorandum of Understanding for a new 911 Director was approved. The issue was discussed last month, but no vote was taken. The new Director is being funded by the 911 Board, but will run through the Sheriff’s Department in order to provide insurance and state retirement.

Commissioners briefly discussed the changes at Copper Basin Medical Center. Commissioner Daren Waters said they needed to speak to the hospital’s board rather than speculate about what is going on.
The county, City of Ducktown, and City of Copperhill have all signed a $750,000 note backing the hospital and will be on the hook if it goes under. Waters said it was not just them, it was everyone, because it would require a tax increase to cover that.

Bishop said they had been assured the county would be the first leinholder, but United Community Bank was listed as the first leinholder. He also there would have to be permission from the state to close the hospital. Waters said he did not want it closed. He said there were also 120 jobs to consider.
William Bracken suggested if the note was called, the county would move up into the role of first leinholder because the bank would be the owner.

Copper Basin Medical Center Board eyes new ER docs

The Copper Basin Medical Center District Board met Tuesday, May 24th for their regular monthly meeting. A special called meeting held the night before dissolved the hospital’s corporate board, leaving District Board members in charge of running the hospital. Board member Randy Collins was absent; Jack Collins had to leave due to a family emergency. Board Chairman Doug Collins said the hospital might be in critical condition, but was not dead. He said they were all there for a reason, and were hard-headed enough not to quit.

Board members discussed changes to the bylaws. The Corporate Board was responsible for re-appointing medical staff, and that duty is now the responsibility of the District Board. Carina Walker suggested an addition to the bylaws that says the District Board would have the same duties as the Corporate Board. She said a lawyer should look at the bylaws just to be sure. Before leaving, Jack Collins made a motion to have an attorney tell them how they could be in compliance so they could have open meetings. Frank Shinpaugh asked how HIPAA came into play with the board. Anna Clark said there was a report every month that gave data about patients. Shinpaugh said those matters could be taken care of in executive sessions.

Bea Tallent told the board she thought they should work on a contract with Dr. Siddiqui. Doug Collins said he thought they should go through the process to bid it out. Ron O’Neal said the CEO and Administrator had full power on that in the District bylaws. Clark said she thought her actions spoke pretty loud when she did not pay the doctors. She said the manager at Dr. Siddiqui’s office told her they would be adding a new doctor, but he was not credentialed. Clark said the office manager said she was going to put him on the schedule anyway; Clark said he would not.

Clark said they were writing off $43,000 in ER claims every month. She said a policy was passed in April by the medical staff and Corporate Board on non-emergent care, but was not being followed. Dr. Siddiqui was a member of the now-defunct corporate board. “Why do business with someone you can’t trust,” Clark asked. She said she was going to pay her people but Siddiqui did not want to work it out and did not want to comply even though he approved the policies twice. Clark recommended the ER be bid out to other groups.

Doug Collins said they had found it for $400,000 cheaper in the past. He said you couldn’t believe everything you hear, and that not everybody who came through the ER was happy. Collins said Clark was not just firing people and the board had approved everyone who had been fired, including the girl who said she can do the proper billing and coding. “I hate to break your heart, Alicia, but the same guy you are backing was in favor of getting rid of you,” Doug Collins said. Alicia said she was not for anybody but the hospital.

Collins said there were three doctors doing everything fine, but the others were not. He said $269,000 in charts were not signed off on and they were not getting money. Collins said that was another way they were being held hostage. He said Siddiqui acted like they owed him, but he benefitted more from the hospital than anyone. Collins said Siddiqui had a million-dollar home, and no one else at the meeting did. Collins said Clark had pulled out her own checkbook to help people and O’Neal had loaned the hospital $130,000, but did not go around patting himself on the back about it. He said Siddiqui was always talking about being there 23 years, but he did not see the helping, just saw things going more and more in the hole, but that he hadn’t talked to Siddiqui face to face. He said there was not an easy fix, but politics needed to be out of it.

Representatives from Medical Billing Services were on hand to discuss their efforts in collecting. Collins said they had worked hard and invested some of their own money to help the hospital and deserved a chance to defend themselves. Lisa DeFriece said the hospital needed about $4 million coming in and were not getting near that. She said they had the staff and knowledge to do the job. Burger said she didn’t appreciate them talking about not being able to defend themselves when she was not permitted to defend herself after being fired. She said she spoke to the board members who said they would listen to her. Clark said they all said they did not want to talk to her.

Brandi Bivens said they were working on claims from 2012, 2013, and 2014. She suggested the ER doctors needed training in order to get the billing done correctly and that the issue was wording a lot of the time. Bivens said multiple insurance companies were refusing to pay for non-emergent claims, and suggested stepping up triage to see which patients were non-emergent. She said there were X-Rays, CT, and other tests being done that did not pertain to the illness. She said yearly screenings were being done multiple times a year and being written off.

Bivens said Clark was great to work with and the billing staff were wonderful and cooperative, but it was hard when they did not get help from the physicians. Bivens said it was not true that they did not have experience billing for a hospital, but just never had something with this many issues.
Burger asked why the AR had climbed. Clark said it had not climbed and it was being misrepresented by Siddiqui. She said he did not have a clue or was lying.

Board Member Mitchell Hicks said he felt like they shouldn’t be discussing the ER contract with Dr. Siddiqui not there. He said he felt like Siddiqui was being attacked. Hicks said the ladies doing the billing were given a chance to defend themselves and it was not fair to Siddiqui. He said the very same thing happened to them the night before that was happening to Siddiqui that night and both nights were not fair to the other side.

Read to Be Ready Grant Awarded

The Polk County School System was recently awarded one of twelve Read to be Ready summer grants from the state department of education for a reading camp. 

“We were excited to know we were one of twelve chosen from over two hundred applications,” said Joel Cox Polk County Schools Elementary Schools Supervisor.  The purpose of the camp is to encourage students to read and write to help prevent the summer slide.  Students typically lose ground in reading during the summer unless they read. The Grant is being funded by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation and customers who contribute to their campaigns. 

“With less than half of the state’s third graders currently reading on grade level, we must approach reading in new and innovative ways,” State Commissioner Candace McQueen said. “Read to be Ready summer grants will support individual communities as they tailor their approach to reading to meet the needs of the families they serve.”

“Our grant was a group effort,” Cox said. Along with Cox, Dr. Tracy McAbee, Dr. Jason Bell, Deborah Williams, and Tammy Dunn brainstormed and wrote the grant. “The idea of using the beauty of our own county to write the grant around kept coming up,” Cox explained. The title of the grant became P.O.L.K. (Polk Outdoor Literacy Kamp), and it pulls in the environmental and science standards.  It targets rising first, second, and third graders and will employee three teachers at each elementary school to host no less than five children in each grade level.

The plans include four hours a day for four weeks where students will work on activities at the schools, visit local libraries, and attend weekly field trips. The field trips include the State Tree Nursery, Gee Creek (animals), local farms, the Whitewater Center, The Ducktown Basin Museum, and TVA Parksville Dam/Sugarloaf.  There will be presentations and hands on activities brought to each site by the UT/TSU Agent Kelly Frady and Volunteer Electric Cooperative (VEC). The grant would not have been approved without the backing of some of our local businesses such as The Polk County News, The Benton Unit of the Boys/Girls Club, 21st Century Grant-Brenda Green, The Polk County Library Board and Friends of the Library, People Helping People, UT/TSU Cooperative Extension Office. If you would like more information on this program for your child please contact Joel Cox 299-0471. 

Copper Basin Medical Center Corporate Board Dissolved

Two hospital boards have become one as the trustees of the Copper Basin Medical Center make an effort to save the struggling hospital. Current and past employees, concerned city and county officials, and members of the two hospital boards met Mondaym May 23rd in a special called meeting.

District Board Chairman Doug Collins told those present he felt dissolving the contract with the Corporate Board would be in the best interests of everyone involved. He said conducting business via the District Board would offer transparency and enable them to answer questions about the state of the hospital.

Polk County, Ducktown, and Copperhill are all named on a note backing the hospital and will be on the hook if it goes under. Collins asked City Attorney Eric Brooks to review the contract with the Corporate Board, which is contracted to run the hospital. Brooks suggested the District Board look a little more deeply to get all the information needed – such as whether or not payrolls taxes and insurances are being paid. He said he did not know what all was in default, but pointed out the Corporate Board could do loans up to $100,000 before getting approval from the District Board. Brooks said the contract had been extended in 2010, and the lease was good until the SBA loan was paid off, 30 years, or unless terminated because of default. He said in order for the District Board to say there was a breach of contract, they needed to give 120-day written notice.

Collins said they had sent a letter to the Corporate Board in December. Brooks encouraged the board to make sure they knew what they were getting into. He said he did not know if payroll tax, liability insurance, and retirement was being paid because when there are cashflow issues those are often not paid. Brooks also pointed out there were multiple pieces of property. He said the one the hospital sits on was in the District Board’s name, but another was not.

All board members present said their goal was to keep the hospital open. Doug Collins said the bottom line was that because the Corporate Board went into default, it all falls back onto the District Board anyway. Jack Collins said they had been struggling for a while. He asked if dissolving the lease made it more or less likely to stay open. Doug Collins said it would be more likely to stay open if the contract with the Corporate Board was dissolved. He pointed out that a lot of trust was gone because the Corporate Board was not open. He said commissioners and community members should not have to beg for information and that the District Board used to run the hospital.

Ron ONeal said if the hospital had to borrow money it had to come through the District Board anyway. He said all the equipment was mortgaged to the bank and the District Board had to pay that loan. ONeal said it would be best back in the hands of the District Board. Frank Shinpaugh asked what they would do – find somebody to run it or manage it? Doug Collins said there was no way to go into contract with anyone else or become an affiliate of another hospital as long as they had two boards.

Concerned employees listened in as the CBMC Corporate Board was dissolved.

Concerned employees listened in as the CBMC Corporate Board was dissolved.

Dr. Mahmood Siddiqui said to look at Etowah or Hutchesen Medical Center to see what happens when a bigger hospital comes in. He said any bigger hospital only cares about profit. “They will just shut the place down,” Siddiqui said. “We are just a number.” Doug Collins said the hospital was going to close anyway at the rate it was going. He said they needed the docs on board. Dr. Siddiqui said he had been there 23 years and 70% of the business comes from their practice. He said it was unfair to accuse them of not being committed.

CEO Anna Clark said the majority of people coming through the ER were non-emergency cases and the doctors were not sending them home but should be. She said there were people coming in over and over and the hospital was losing money on drug seekers.

Dr. Rakesh Shah said they get paid a fixed amount and it took time to document everything to find out if a case was non-emergent. He said by the time he gets to the end and all he has left is to give a shot or write a prescription, he was going to finish.

“This is a community hospital. Patients in the ER are sick people. Don’t mix apples and oranges,” Siddiqui said. Dr. Shah said every day he sees at least one person who has never been there before. He said people are impressed with the ER and suggested if they were a problem, complaints would have been heard by now. Siddiqui said there was always someone to blame. He said first it was the front staff, then billing department, then the coder, the Medicare. He said it was their job to take care of patients, not collect. He said the company now doing the billing has never billed for a hospital before.

Jack Collins said the issue of finger-pointing was not going to hep the situation. Doug Collins said the problem did not happen overnight and would not be fixed overnight.An ER employee pointed out that often a patient may come in with anxiety and it turn out to be a heart attack. She said things can come in looking very innocent, but be serious problems. Others talked about whether or not it was just coding, wording, or documentation that got claims rejected by insurance.

Daren Waters said if the hospital started turning people away, they would stop coming. One woman commented that she had been to the ER three times and only once did anyone ask for her co-pay, and that person has since been fired. She said on the other times, she had to tell the front staff she wanted to pay. Doug Collins said something had to change and that the hospital had been in a downward spiral. Siddiqui said the problem was in billing and that throwing the ER staff under the bus was wrong. Clark said they were not in compliance because they were not turning away non-emergent patients. Collins said they were laying off folks because there was no money. Shah said it was bad management and that others were getting raises.

Jack Collins said if someone else wanted to come in to manage the hospital he would not support them unless they wanted to run it as a functional hospital. Dr. Siddiqui said an outside entity would do what is best for them and not for the community. He said the hospital could do it on its own, and suggested the board not kick those who had been loyal in the rear end.

Clark said with all their efforts in the last 12 months, they had not even reached the minimum needed to get by. She said there was also too much regulation and no way to keep up.

“If we can’t run it, no one can,” Siddiqui said, adding that billing and collections is the problem.
One employee said next Tuesday would make one month since the ER was paid. She said Clark had said she was not paying them because they were not compliant.

Randy Collins made a motion to dissolve the Corporate Board. ONeal seconded. Mitchell Hicks asked what would change and if the liability would be there either way. He asked what the point was if everything was going to stay the same. Collins said they would have the liability regardless.

Hoyt Firestone said he was concerned about jobs, pointing out the hospital was the largest private employer in the county. He said the District Board had leased the hospital to itself because members were on both boards, and it seemed cumbersome.

Dr. Siddiqui said there was $7 million in accounts receivables. Clark said most of that was for old accounts. A former employee said she knew how to do the proper coding for billing, but had been fired.
Doug Collins pointed out that there was not currently a contract for the ER doctors. He said they agreed to pay $100 an hours, but nothing was ever signed. Collins said they had been running on good faith. Siddiqui said they had been working on good faith, as well.

“Just pay the ER docs,” Siddiqui said. Doug Collins said Siddiqui previously said if they can get it cheaper to do it, and he thought it might need to be rebid. “If we give you $90,000 a month, you need to at least give us that much,” Collins said. “You have to take care of the ER guys, we take care of the hospital,” Siddiqui said. He pointed out that Dr. Jones had brought in people from Fannin County since he had been there. Siddiqui said 18 practices had come and gone but his ER team had been stable for 10 years.

Jack Collins said both sides needed to work together to keep what they had. Siddiqui said they would not be held hostage. “Like we are?” Clark asked. Jack Collins suggested the board set up a committee to recruit someone to come in to run the hospital. He said their life jacket was getting full of water, adding that he did not want the ER to leave.