: River West status ever changing after suit filing

Tryve Brackin

A suit filed in U.S. Bankruptcy court Monday has created an ever-changing status over the last hours for local hospital River West Medical Center.

Tuesday morning it was reported the medical center would close down its operations with the exception of its emergency room after efforts were made by creditors to push the facility into involuntary bankruptcy at Monday’s court hearing. However, by Tuesday afternoon, the status of the hospital operations already changed.

The medical center’s executive officer Bryan Bogle gave a statement Monday afternoon that only emergency room operations would be available Tuesday. With all other hospital operations closed, approximately 200 employees would be affected financially.

Jim Cheek, owner of Shiloh Health Services was in Plaquemine Monday for meetings with the River West staff managers to come up with immediate solutions to the closure and bankruptcy proceedings. Shiloh is the corporate owner of River West, having purchased the hospital in 2007.

Late Tuesday afternoon a statement came from Cheek that the hospital would remain in operation, but on a reduced operation status until a March 20 court hearing.

Certain departments in the hospital could well be temporarily ceased from operating, while others will operate in normal fashion, everything depending upon the needs of current patients. No exact information about operations or employment status was released by the hospital owners

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Douglas D. Dodd decided in court Monday to postpone any decision as to how to proceed with any bankruptcy case until a later hearing in March. However, he issued an order that prohibits the corporate owner from making payments to benefit insiders or affiliates for any purpose. Also, furniture or equipment cannot be sold during the time period before the court hearing.

Monday, State Dept. of Health and Hospitals Secretary Alan Levine said state officials are concerned for the livelihoods of the hospital employees and that questions have arisen as to whether or not the facility can stay open only in an ER capacity. Levine said the corporate owner of the hospital left the community in a difficult situation.

Tuesday Judge Dodd took action prior to the proposed March hearing. He directed an “ombudsman” to be appointed by the court to monitor patient care at the facility. Following the judge’s action Tuesday, the hospital officials made their statement about the operating status of the facility until the bankruptcy hearing.

What prompted the bankruptcy hearing Monday was the issuing of employee checks in late January that bounced. Since that time the state’s DHH advanced the money to cover the payment of salaries to the hospital employees. The DHH and Iberville Parish officials got together, along with other creditors, to file for involuntary bankruptcy against River West to force a solution to the financial difficulties. A bankruptcy petition filed in court gave the hospital’s debts a total of more than $500,000 to creditors.

Attorneys representing River West told Judge Dodd Monday that funds from the hospital and Shiloh were available to cover payroll checks issued last Friday.

Judge Dodd did not assign a trustee to the case, but did put restrictions on the owners by Tuesday.

 State Dept. of Health and Hospitals Secretary Alan Levine commented Monday that state officials are concerned for the livelihoods of the hospital employees and that questions have arisen as to whether or not the facility can stay open only in an ER capacity. Levine said the corporate owner of the hospital left the community in a difficult situation. Meanwhile, Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso made a statement Monday that local government will make every effort to keep the hospital in the community under any ownership. He said the parish backed the lawsuit as an immediate effort to remedy the situation at hand and to help direct efforts to keeping it open.

During hospital officer Bogle’s statements Monday about the closure of everything but the ER, he reported his job had been terminated.

(Editor’s Note: The above report was finalized at news deadline Wednesday, 8 a.m. For any status changes on River West check for updates on www.postsouth.com