On December 11, 1959, the Board of Governor’s of Jefferson County, Arkansas, entered into an agreement with Jefferson Hospital Association, Inc., a non-profit corporation to manage and operate Jefferson County Hospital for 50 years, for the cash consideration of $1.00 — the $1.00 was paid, and 56 years later Jefferson County hasn’t received another cent from Jefferson Hospital Association. That $1.00 is all Jefferson County has ever received and rightfully so, that’s what the contract called for and Jefferson Hospital Association complied with the contract.
But there are other requirements of the contract that were and are still being violated, especially the awarding of donations and grants that are in direct violation of the contract that states in section 8(b) that the income derived from the operation of said hospital by the lessee (Jefferson Hospital Association) “SHALL” at all times be applied “EXCLUSIVELY” to the payment of the costs of maintenance and operation of said hospital and other allied uses.
There is no mention of giving any donations, but that is exactly what they did.
In 2008, they donated $760,000 to Arkansas Community Foundation, $37,676 to Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County, $27,000 to Seabrook YMCA and $36,250 to United Way. In 2009, $26,900 to Seabrook YMCA, $122,500 to Pine Bluff Country Club for club renovations, $37,500 to United Way, $50,000 to Arkansas Community Foundation (Community endowment, honoring Bob Atkinson).
In 2010, $72,502 was donated to the Pine Bluff Chamber of Commerce (Partners in Progress Pledge), and $37,500 was given to the United Way. In 2011, $34,466 was given to United Way, $26,250 to Seabrook YMCA and in 2013, $70,000 to United Way.
From 2008 to 2013, these donations totaled over $3 million, and I have been led to believe by legal counsel that these donations are problematic. In 2014, Jefferson Hospital Association reported on its balance sheet that their was $118,896,404 in Assets Limited As To Use for future capitol improvements, over which their Board retains control and “MAY” at its discretion subsequently use for other purposes.
Those funds are earmarked for a new hospital and Jefferson Hospital Association has no problem in putting a new hospital in jeopardy, they are willing to use that $119 million as a fund without getting approval from the Jefferson County Hospital Board Of Governors — that is being totally disrespectful.
The contract calls for Jefferson Hospital Association to operate as a non-profit, but would you believe that they have for- profit subsidiaries under their umbrella? I do believe that puts their non-profit status in jeopardy. After reviewing these documents I had plenty of questions for Jefferson Hospital Association.
I did inquire about attending Jefferson Hospital Association Board Meetings and was told that their meetings are private. I attempted to inform him that they are subject to The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, which includes open meetings.
There has to be a common sense approach to this issue, and I don’t expect out-going County Judge Dutch King to address this issue, but County Judge-Elect Hank Wilkins has the time to see if my issue is credible. There has to be transparency and accountability. If the Jefferson Hospital Association has closed meetings there is no transparency, which means they operate like a secret society.
I have some thoughts on what should happen to address these issues:
1. The Jefferson County Hospital Board of Governors needs to ask the Jefferson County Quorum Court to appropriate monies to hire legal counsel to look into the contract for illegalities and a possible breach of said contract. $25,000 was appropriated in December 2006, but the monies were never used. I am being told through sources that the monies were to be used to look into the contract. If that is true, these problems didn’t just start.
2. The Jefferson County Hospital Board of Governors need to meet “ASAP” and vote to move that $119 million to The County Treasurer to protect a new hospital, and if the Jefferson Hospital Association has need for any of those funds, they would need the approval of The Jefferson County Hospital Board of Governors … they have the authority to do it.
3. If after a full investigation by legal counsel it is found that the contract has been breached, Jefferson County should look into selling the hospital. That would bring in over a half-billion dollars, and those funds could be used to reward county employees with a raise and other areas to enhance the county, including economic development. And when the economic development tax expires in four years don’t renew it, it won’t be needed. And we eliminate a county-wide tax, selling the hospital would not mean jobs loss, new jobs would be created by leveraging the funds from the sale of the hospital into industrial and small business development.
There is a simple solution to a complex problem, the Jefferson Hospital Association is accountable to the Jefferson County Hospital Board of Governors, and The Jefferson County Hospital Board of Governors is accountable to the citizens of Jefferson County and those Board of Governor members are: Glen Bell, James Bell, John Garrison, Eugene Hunt, Dr. David Jacks, Archie Sanders and Shirley Washington. Call them and encourage them to meet and investigate the actions of the Jefferson Hospital Association.
Jack Foster is a Pine Bluff resident and former member of the Pine Bluff City Council.