Hospital operator found in contempt


EDENTON — Yadkin County claimed a victory on Tuesday in the ongoing legal battle against former hospital operator HMC/CAH. A contempt of court hearing was held and several county officials were present for the proceedings, including County Manager Lisa Hughes and Chairman Kevin Austin.

“After a lengthy hearing, Judge Terrence Boyle ruled in US District Court in Edenton, North Carolina from the bench that CAH Acquisition Company 10 LLC was found to be in civil contempt and willful and knowing violation of the temporary restraining order (TRO),” stated a press release sent Tuesday afternoon by county officials.

The county had filed the TRO on May 22 upon learning that HMC/CAH planned to shut down the hospital the next day, though its lease was not set to expire until July 31.

The release went on to say that HMC/CAH “will be given an opportunity to purge their contempt by keeping open opportunities for patients to obtain their medical records and returning county property as required by law.”

In addition, “the county will be awarded damages, and the county was ordered to provide to the court proof of damages caused by CAH Acquisition Company 10’s actions measured from the time of the violation of the TRO through the time of reopening, and a plan to reopen or re-establish the hospital as soon as possible.”

Hughes said they would be working now to come up with a plan to get a new hospital group to operate the facility as soon as possible. Several groups had submitted proposals to take over the operation of the hospital earlier this year and Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital recently entered discussions with the county to possibly take over the county-owned hospital building.

Hughes said attorney’s fees, extra EMS staff being posted at the hospital since its closure and other expenses the county has incurred due to the hospital closure are to be paid to the county by HMC/CAH as part of the ruling.

“It’s everything that it has cost the county and will cost the county from the day that they closed until the day that we get reopened,” she said.

“We are extremely pleased for the citizens of Yadkin County that the court ruling will enable the county to move forward to returning health care for our citizens,” added Chairman Kevin Austin.

Over the past several months the county had been working to find a new company to operate a hospital in the county-owned building. HMC/CAH’s lease was set to expire on July 31, but the company shut down the hospital on May 22 despite a court order.

The original restraining order was filed in Wake County Superior Court, but on June 1, HMC filed a motion to move the case to federal court due to the fact that their company is not headquartered in the state of North Carolina.

On June 5, the contempt hearing was scheduled for June 16. Last Thursday, HMC filed a motion to delay the hearing, but a judge ruled on Monday morning that the hearing would take place as scheduled.

All court documents related to the case can be found on the county website at www.yadkincountync.gov.

“We’re just very pleased that the judge saw all the issues and he’s going to help us serve the citizens of Yadkin County to get the care that they need,” said Hughes.

Representatives from HMC/CAH had no comment on the ruling, however, they did forward on court documents they had filed prior to the hearing. On June 15, HMC/CAH filed a memorandum in opposition to the county’s motion to appear which argued that the “court should not entertain contempt proceedings because plaintiff [Yadkin County] evicted defendant CAH10 from the hospital and CAH10 did not receive notice of the temporary restraining order until after the hospital had closed.”

The document went on to say that, “uniformed and armed Sheriff’s officers from the Yadkin County Sheriff’s Department were dispatched by Yadkin County manager Lisa Hughes to surround the hospital and evict the hospital staff. The eviction order was given by a Sheriff’s Officer to Shawn Bright, the senior most Hospital administrator, at approximately 5 p.m. Word of the eviction spread through the hospital staff who gathered their belongings and left.”

Hughes said that during Tuesday’s hearing the judge asked HMC/CAH’s lawyer Dennis Davis if they were provided any civil process of that eviction, to which he responded “no.” Hughes said that Davis told the judge he did not usually practice law in North Carolina, but in Missouri, where someone could be evicted from a premises without prior civil process. Hughes added that the deputy who was mentioned in affidavits submitted by HMC/CAH, Sgt. Scotty Shields, also testified during the hearing, refuting claims that he was on the premises for the purpose of serving an eviction notice.

Sheriff Ricky Oliver confirmed that no eviction notice had ever been filed in regard to the hospital and no officers were on the premises for the purpose of evicting hospital staff.

The Northwest Piedmont Workforce Development Board will hold information sessions for the employees affected by the hospital closure on June 24 and 25 at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. The sessions will take place in room 217 at The Yadkin Center, located at 4649 U.S. 601 in Yadkinville. Each session is two hours in length and will cover topics such as unemployment benefits, local job search assistance, etc. Employees affected by the hospital closure are asked to RSVP no later than June 22 by calling or texting 336-749-4570, by calling the Piedmont Triad Regional Council at 336-904-0300 ext. 4006 or emailing ssteinberger@ptrc.org.

Kitsey E. Burns may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.

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