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Residents confront Dougherty County Commission over Hospital Board appointment

Group member questions Hospital Authority and commissioner's integrity

Hope Campbell addresses the Dougherty County Commission Monday concerning that board's decision to not appoint Dr. Price Corr to the Hospital Authority of Albany-Dougherty County. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

Hope Campbell addresses the Dougherty County Commission Monday concerning that board's decision to not appoint Dr. Price Corr to the Hospital Authority of Albany-Dougherty County. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

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Dr. Price Corr, who lost his bid to be on the Hospital Authority when appointments were made Dec. 2, warns the Dougherty County Commission Monday that Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital has "gotten too big." (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

ALBANY — A group of citizens, angered by the Dougherty County Commission’s rejection two weeks ago of Dr. Price Corr’s request to be placed on the Hospital Authority of Albany-Dougherty County, voiced their disapproval during the commission’s last business meeting of the year Monday morning.

David Prisant, Dr. Corleen Thompson, Hope Campbell and Corr took commissioners to task for action Prisant said was “not in the best interest of this community.” Campbell chided Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard for doing business with Phoebe through his Adams Exterminators company.

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David Prisant tells Dougherty County commissioners their appointments to the Hospital Authority of Albany-Dougherty County "does not pass the smell test." (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

“Doesn’t that hint at conflict of interest?” Campbell asked Sinyard after he said the hospital did not bid the annual contract. “Couldn’t Phoebe put that out to bid so that your integrity is not questioned? You’re vulnerable (to such accusations) by having an unbid pest control contract.”

Sinyard interrupted Campbell’s commentary.

“That’s not true, and I resent you saying that,” the chairman said.

The citizens were angered that Corr, an Albany native who has practiced medicine in the community for more than 30 years, was overlooked for a spot on the authority in favor of Joel Callins, a newcomer to the community. Ferrell “Ty” Moultrie was selected for the other vacant slot on the authority at the commission’s Dec. 2 business meeting.

“What reason do you have to reject a man who has lived a lifetime in Albany and Dougherty County and knows the community for someone who is a newcomer?” Campbell asked. “Could it be that Mr. (Phoebe CEO Joel) Wernick did not want to answer to a board member of integrity?”

District 6 Commissioner Jack Stone, angered by Prisant’s contention that the board’s action “did not pass the smell test,” testily replied, “Anyone who thinks this commission is not doing what it’s supposed to do, well, I suggest you get elected to the County Commission and make these decisions yourself.”

After the meeting Stone said Campbell’s questions about Sinyard’s business practices were uncalled for.

“Do people like that expect a businessman not to do business?” Stone said. “Jeff Sinyard’s got one vote on that board like all the rest of us. He can’t put anybody on the Hospital Authority, just like I can’t put anybody on the Hospital Authority. I don’t see (Sinyard doing business with Phoebe) as a conflict of interest in the least. He gave up a really big contract (with the county) when he bought that business (in 1994), and it just doesn’t make sense to expect him not to do business with (Phoebe).

“It’s people like this who make it so hard for us to get business people to run for elected office. That’s why we sometimes get some really bad elected officials.”

County Attorney Spencer Lee tried to dissuade commissioners from responding to comments from the citizens about their contentions of “illegal practices” at Phoebe.

“People come in here and use the word ‘illegal,’ and that’s pretty darned strong language,” Lee said. “Talk about illegal activity suggests criminal allegations, and that kind of talk should be directed to the sheriff sitting back there or the city police or the county police or to the district attorney’s office.

“I understand this is an open forum, but talk of ‘illegal activities’ can get dangerous, and I always suggest that this board stay away from such discussions.”

Prisant said after the meeting his discussions with citizens in the community suggested Phoebe is unfairly overcharging for procedures at the hospital.

“I had two people come to me independently of each other and say they’d been given a cost of $8,200 to $8,300 for a colonoscopy,” Prisant said. “They asked me what they could do, and I said to call Tifton or Moultrie or Valdosta. They got back with me and said the prices they were quoted (at other hospitals) were 35, 6, 7, 8 (hundreds) dollars.”

Phoebe officials issued a response after learning of the citizens’ complaints.

“The County Commission is responsible for selecting authority members from the number of citizens who step up and offer to take on the responsibility of serving on that board and other boards in the community they are charged with appointing,” a Phoebe spokesperson said. “They appear to take that responsibility very seriously, and our community has been very blessed with volunteer citizen board members. The Hospital Authority has certainly had the service of many outstanding citizens over the past years for whom the community should be grateful.

“The authority has entrusted Phoebe with the community’s assets, and we value our stable relationship with the authority and the stewardship each member provides in overseeing the community’s resources.”

Corr warned the commission that Phoebe was in danger of becoming “too big.”

“Yes, you can be too big and too powerful,” the physician said. “I treat cancer, and when a cancerous growth becomes too big in a body, it can destroy you. You’ve got a hospital that’s become so big, the Hospital Authority members that you appoint don’t question them. They’re puppeted.”

District 2 Commissioner John Hayes said he’s not seen any of the impropriety suggested by the citizens since he was appointed to serve on the authority.

“I can’t speak for what might have happened before I was on that board, but I feel that we do ask the appropriate questions,” Hayes said. “I would not sit there with the awareness that something (discussed by the authority) would have an adverse effect on this community and not challenge it.”

Hayes did say, though, that some of the concerns raised by the citizens were “worth taking to the authority.”

Sinyard said he respected the comments of the citizens, “even the one that questions my integrity.”

“When you run for public office, you’re accountable,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s important to me that I make the best decision for this community because I love Albany and Dougherty County. I fully understand and respect your being here today, and it will make a difference.

“I do want to say, though, that the day I learned of (Phoebe’s purchase of rival Palmyra Medical Center), I expressed three concerns: That employees at HCA (Palmyra) be retained by Phoebe, that we not lose the tax base that (for-profit Palmyra) provided and that health care costs be contained. Those are still my primary concerns.”