Group opposes Palmyra lease

ALBANY, Ga. -- Albany internist Dr. Charles Gebhardt says members of the Hospital Authority of Albany-Dougherty County face an ethical dilemma of their own making as they consider Phoebe Putney Health Systems' request to lease the former Palmyra Medical Center campus for the next 40 years at a symbolic price of $1 a year.

Gebhardt, the current president of the South Georgia Physicians Association who previously served on the Authority, notes that, as duly appointed public officials, board members are bound by an oath of office.

"There is no concept of responsibility on that board," Gebhardt said. "I was told when I was appointed that we had no actual role, that we were there to rubber-stamp whatever was presented to us by Phoebe officials.

"I think it's very important, then, that as they consider this lease question that everyone on the Hospital Authority remembers that they took an oath of office when they were appointed to the Authority. They are obligated to do what is in the best interest of this community. The Authority was designed to provide oversight. If they don't do that, if they simply bend to the will of the hospital administration, they are violating their oath of office."

Gebhardt is one of the members of the local medical community who has joined the loosely organized community group known as STOP (Stop the Takeover of Palmyra) that is calling on the local Hospital Authority to consider options other than granting Phoebe control of operations of the former Palmyra facility that has been renamed Phoebe North.

STOP members plan to speak Thursday morning at a 10 a.m. public hearing that state law requires to be conducted 60 days before a hospital authority sells or leases a property it owns. With the Hospital Authority's approval of the lease, Phoebe Health Systems officials say they plan to proceed with full integration of the former Palmyra campus on Aug. 1.

Opponents of the lease say health care costs in Albany/Dougherty County, and by extension, all of Southwest Georgia, will increase significantly if Phoebe obtains what they term to be a "monopoly" on health care in the region.

Jackie Ryan, Phoebe's vice president of corporate strategy, however, said the fears of growing health care costs in the region are overstated. The hospital's costs, she said, are near the same level or less than those of similar facilities. She pointed out that by leasing the former Palmyra campus to Phoebe, the Hospital Authority would simply be allowing the community to use assets it already owns.

"I can't stress enough that the Hospital Authority owns all the assets we're talking about here," she said. "It's that old question of 'Who owns Phoebe?' The answer is everybody and nobody. The assets are controlled by the Hospital Authority.

"I am just baffled by these people's motivation. How can they come up with the idea that this is not a good thing for the community?"

Albany attorney Bo Dorough, who also is part of the STOP movement, agrees with Gebhardt's assessment of the Hospital Authority's responsibilities, but takes it a step further. He said that board had an obligation to call for top Phoebe officials' to resign when evidence indicated they'd violated federal antitrust laws.

"The Hospital Authority has fiduciary obligations to the community," Dorough said. "Despite their best intentions, they have conducted themselves as agents of the hospital (Phoebe). Evidence presented and filings by the Federal Trade Commission indicate one member of the Authority did not even read the complaint (filed by the FTC) against Phoebe.

"Authority members did not even ask hospital officials one question. According to the terms of the lease (under which Phoebe Health Systems operates), if the Authority verified that (Phoebe) violated antitrust laws, they should have immediately called for the resignation of all top officials involved."

Dorough said Hospital Authority members rejected their own responsibility as well.

"Every person on that board should have resigned when they learned that (Phoebe) was systematically breaking the law," he said.

Last November, Dorough filed suit on behalf of Dr. Corleen Thompson, a local epidemiologist, against the Hospital Authority of Albany-Dougherty County, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, Phoebe Putney Health System and Palmyra Medical Center, contending, among other things, that authority members violated their responsibilities as public trustees by failing to question Phoebe's attempted merger with Palmyra.

A temporary restraining order against Phoebe sought by the suit was denied and in late December, the attorney dropped the suit.

Dr. Joe Stubbs, past president of the American College of Physicians and a practicing internist/geriatrician with Albany Internal Medicine, addressed a number of concerns about Phoebe's planned lease of the former Palmyra facility in a guest editorial that appeared Sunday in The Albany Herald. He said Monday that Phoebe's $195 million purchase of Palmyra from Hospital Corporation of America was an attempt by Phoebe to stave off a Palmyra lawsuit that could have been catastrophic to the not-for-profit hospital.

"The lawsuit brought by Palmyra alleges that Phoebe tried to gain a monopoly of medical services by violating federal antitrust laws," Stubbs said. "The case was initially dismissed but was reinstated by an appeals court. That's when Phoebe started negotiating (with HCA) to buy Palmyra.

"Palmyra asked for $20 million in damages for 2001 (in the lawsuit). Imagine if those damages had gone through 2008, and then the damages potentially tripled (as stipulated by antitrust law). That's why an entity (Palmyra) whose worth is estimated at around $55 million to $65 million was worth $195 million to Phoebe. It's mind-boggling to think the Hospital Authority would allow this. The way we refer to it is that a lot of people here drink the Phoebe Kool-Aid."

Tommy Chambless, the senior vice president/general counsel for Phoebe Putney Health Systems Inc., said the Hospital Authority has ample reason to lease the former Palmyra property to Phoebe rather than consider selling it or leasing it to another entity, as STOP members are suggesting.

"I think the Hospital Authority has every right to be pleased with the accomplishments of its lessee (Phoebe)," Chambless said. "To say that the increase in value (of Phoebe) since 1990 should not be a consideration (to leasing the property) flies in the face of what is expected of the Authority. It's just nuts."

Chambless said the Hospital Authority has three requirements under Georgia law that will be met at Thursday's public hearing, which will be held in Room 100 of the City-County Government Building downtown.

"The (reasonably foreseeable) adverse and beneficial effects of the lease will be discussed," he said. "A financial statement and estimated total value of the assets and liabilities to be transferred will be given, and resumes of the top five executives who will manage the facility will be provided.

"It will be show-and-tell time, and we will provide all the information required by state law. It's pretty simple: The Hospital Authority became owner of the new property (Palmyra) on Dec. 15 of last year. Because the Hospital Authority -- and by association, the people of the county -- is now the owner of the new property, it intends to lease it to Phobe Putney Memorial Hospital subject to state law."

Independent insurance broker David Prisant argues health care cost increases have already begun.

"Whether Phoebe wants to admit it or not, health care costs at the hospital have gone through the roof over the last two years," he said. "Clients are contacting me to ask about astronomical bills, which, oddly enough, when they ask to get an itemized account almost 99 percent of the time come down significantly."

Prisant offered examples that he said he had seen in recent months:

-- A woman whose breast biopsy would have cost $400 at her physician's office ballooned to $12,000 when the physician decided a radiologist at Phoebe would be better equipped to do the procedure because of its location;

-- A man who discovered his blood disorder that required monthly infusions that cost $4,000 in Birmingham, Ala., could be done at Phoebe, but at a cost of $20,000.

-- Cost for vaginal delivery of a baby at a non-Phoebe-owned area hospital increased from $4,450 to $8,000 at the Albany-based hospital.

"They're nailing this community," Prisant said. "About 25 percent of the people in one of the poorest areas of the nation have health insurance, and the other 75 percent have Medicare, Medicaid or nothing. And yet Phoebe still has $30 million laying around to build some new structure? How do they make this money? By maximized billing of those of us with insurance."

Gebhardt said the STOP group wants the Hospital Authority to look out for the best interest of the community and to consider selling or leasing the former Palmyra campus that it now owns to another hospital or medical management firm.

"We just want them to listen to the community," he said. "Health care costs here are already too high, and with this monopoly in place they will go higher. Sadly, I know many people fear -- and it has been demonstrated often -- that it's dangerous to oppose the will of (Phoebe officials). That's why so many people are reluctant to come forward and speak out.

"But if the people will attend this meeting, I think the Hospital Authority members will listen. I think it's the right thing to do, and one of the most important things I've learned in my life is that if you do things right, they usually work out."


Sister_Ruby 1 year, 11 months ago

There's Jackie.......at it again!!


Trustbuster 1 year, 11 months ago

Dr. Gebhardt is right the hospital authority should look out for the community not Phoebe. This illustrates how much influence Phoebe has over a local governing authority. Stubbs and Gebhardt as practicing physicians are well aware of what is going on concerning Phoebe's undue influence. I hope that STOP and other like minded medical practitioners will rally behind this movement. Reduced competition doesn't benefit anybody. Phoebe's monopolistic practices are not natural it is contrived by a local governing authority. I just learned that Phoebe even pays for the education of its employees. How about that for a so called "nonprofit" hospital!


whattheheck 1 year, 11 months ago

Prisant is correct on the billing issue. Bill everyone a ton in hopes of getting a pound--no relationship of service cost to billing. For example, in 2010, Phoebe had "forgone charges" of over $547 million for Medicare, Medicaid, and indigent/charity. The estimated cost of those charges was $94.6 million. In other words, had Medicar/Medicaid been willing to accept the "forgone"amounts, the payments would have been 5 times the cost of providing the service. Are bills inflated to 5 times the cost as this indicates?


agonized 1 year, 11 months ago

I went to Mayo Clinic in Florida to have a procedure done, which cost me $350 total. At Phoebe, the same procedure had previously cost me a little over $1800, not including the doctor's costs. So just in my real-life example, you are correct--actually it was a little over five times the amount. Ironically, because of coding, the insurance company paid the Phoebe claim but considered the other claim to "exceed reasonable and necessary costs"!


Engineer 1 year, 10 months ago

Yeah, the Mayo Clinic is expanding into Georgia, they took over Satilla Regional Medical Center in Waycross earlier this year.


dingleberry 1 year, 10 months ago

Once Obamacare takes full effect, these bills will look like something from the Dollar Store. Enjoy it while you can, life is you know it is going to take a big move to the left--and take your wallet with it.

There should be no doubt why hospital mergers are occurring. We are talking big money to be made and while the Administration is decrying those who are wealthy, it is generating more wealth for those riding the health train at our expense. Think about it, health and drug costs were no problem until Medicare and Medicaid came along--government breeds its own fraud and inefficiency.

Don't worry about Mayo coming any closer to Albany. I understand Phoebe is going to block Mayo in Valdosta.


VietVet1 1 year, 11 months ago

Phoebe Putney Health Systems' - best interest of this community - like oil & water, don't mix and leaves a bad taste in your mouth.


Outtahere 1 year, 11 months ago

Thank you Dr. Gebhardt for all your efforts!


agonized 1 year, 11 months ago

He's a wonderful, caring doctor and a truly good person. These doctors and other public people who stick their necks out for the good of the community are to be commended.


Sister_Ruby 1 year, 11 months ago

But when they look out their front windows from here on out there will be a dark sedan sitting out there....with two big men inside..........watching.........


justme 1 year, 11 months ago

Not to worry as one of them may leave his pistol in the wal mart bathroom again.

There is an old saying in law enforcement that goes........... TO BE A SUCCESFUL FBI AGENT,YOU HAVE TO HAVE IT IN YOU TO CRAWL OVER YOUR DEAD MOTHER TO S**** YOUR DIEING SISTER. So these are the guys Wernick empyoyes to do his doo doo. What's that tell about Wernick. Now let's not delete this post as the last time I spoke of Wernick, because it is time for the gloves to come off and Wernick stand up for himself as the man he should be.


Cartman 1 year, 11 months ago

Thank you for standing up to this monstrosity. The greed of this bully enterprise has been common knowledge to locals for years. Phoebe has tried to address it by its slick-paper mailouts; buying local media reporters away from their jobs, to be on its PR staff; happy-face newpaper stories about once/week; television ads; billboard ads, etc. If we had a real Hospital Authority, we would know Joel Wernick's income from all sources. We would know the financial interests and motives of the most powerful strong-arm in this area, who happens to be calling the shots. Does anyone for a moment think that public input on the lease is anything but window dressing? For the answer, you need look no further than the Phoebe North signs of conquest already flying above the captured building, that was once Palmyra. It is like the Mexican flag flying over the Alamo. Remember the Palmyra!


ObjectiveEyes 1 year, 11 months ago

IF we had a real Hospital Authority, Phoebe would not hide all of their "real" business behind the "Health System" logo. Of course, The Herald had a hand in allowing that to happen about 15 years ago. Do I believe the public hearing is anything but "window dressing." Not for one second. It's a foregone conclusion. Tomorrow will be nothing more than the same lip service that we've gotten since Wernick took over.


justme 1 year, 11 months ago

What does it take to replace Wernick ? Not too many folks in South Ga. speak well of Wernick and his pals. Do we need to start a recall of Wernick and how do we go about getting it started ?


RegardlessOfTheFacts 1 year, 11 months ago

To recall Wernick all one needs is an honest hospital authority. The hospital authority could terminate the lease agreement on the principal that PPHS was supposed to provide low cost healthcare and since they don't it is grounds for terminate the hospital lease to PPHS.


Cartman 1 year, 11 months ago

You can't do it. He's not an elected official. I'm guessing that only the Board of Directors of the Hospital (the non-profit) and/or the board of his separate hospital management company (for profit) that actually rakes in the high profits, could fire him. But good luck with 'dat.


agonized 1 year, 11 months ago

He's not going anywhere, and Albany is practically already a company town, like in coal mining towns of old. I suggest learning "16 Tons" by the late great Tennessee Ernie Ford and adapting it to today's times.


RegardlessOfTheFacts 1 year, 11 months ago

What should not be forgotten about all of this is the fact that the taxpayers of Albany and Dougherty county a on the hook for 195 million dollars for the bonds being floated for the purchase of Palmyra hospital. Aside that Mr. Rosenberg is beholden to Wernick, he should address how paying triple the value of Palmyra and the potential lease to PPHS is supposed to help SOWEGA and promote business when health care cost already are deterring business from coming to Albany. What do you think a monopoly of healthcare will do for SOWEGA? I know, put nails in the coffin and bury us. Albany is dead compliments of 30 plus years of mayoral incompetence, corruption, city government corruption, and 20 years of PPHS greed and corruption.


KaosinAlbany 1 year, 11 months ago

I usually go to Columbus for anything major. You can get MRI's cheaper there also. Plus, they have an MRI center that is open 24/7. Not unless I have to have emergency surgery, I just take the trip up there and stay at a decent hospital who will take care of me and not over charge me and get horrible service. It's amazing how much less hospital costs are in other cities.


Cartman 1 year, 10 months ago

We need to get some Medi-braclets made up that read, "Do Not Take to Phoebe".


43cop 1 year, 10 months ago

Does anyone really believe that the Hospital Authority will remove Joel Wernick ? He and his bunch already own the politicians here and in Atlanta, so he will be our bad news bear for many years to come. The actual health of this community is not his priority, his off-shore accounts are. If real health care is needed, Macon and Atlanta are really not that far away and the quality of care is absolutely fantastic. Just remember, if you need to be transported to either via ambulance, Phoebe has a lock on that which requires you to go through their emergency center before you can be transported. We have one of the best EMS Directors and personnel in this town, so they are not responsible for this in any way, this is the Hospital Authority and the bad news bear.


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