A Greenville-based nurse staffing business is suing Tri-Lakes Medical Center for $718,124, alleging it’s owed the monies for non-payment of staffing services.
Prime Care Nursing, Inc., which no longer does business with Tri-Lakes, filed the lawsuit February 3 in Panola County Circuit Court.
Prime Care president Ann Barnes told The Panolian the nursing company enjoyed its relationship with Tri-Lakes and waited patiently for months to receive payment for its services.
"We don’t want to put a negative impression on Tri-Lakes because our nurses enjoyed working there, but we’re a small business," Barnes said. "We pay our nurses weekly whether we get paid or not, and we couldn’t carry that kind of debt any longer."
Barnes said Tri-Lakes went "weeks and months" without payment for Prime Care’s nursing services.
The suit names as defendants hospital administrator Dr. Bob Corkern and Ray Shoemaker, the chief operating officer. The hospital’s Board of Trustees is also named in the suit.
Prime Care is represented by attorney Lawrence Little of Oxford.
County Administrator David Chandler, who is also the chairman of the hospital board, said the trustees would likely hire an outside attorney to represent the hospital in the suit.
Tri-Lakes hired Prime Care in August 2003, paying $193,142 since that time, court documents filed by the nursing company allege. That leaves the $718,000-plus amount as the outstanding balance, the documents state.
According to Chandler, he became aware of the lawsuit Friday, February 25 even though Corkern had been served notice of the lawsuit 18 days earlier, February 7.
Corkern and former hospital trustee Larry Pratt – and not Chandler – were served notice of the lawsuit, according to court documents.
"I came in after lunch on Friday, and the notice was there in my office," Chandler said. It had been hand delivered by Pratt, he said.
Since Corkern was served notice of the lawsuit nearly a month ago but failed to alert the current trustees, the board now faces a five-day deadline for filing a response, Chandler said.
That response to the lawsuit is due Monday, March 7.
"We’re going to try to get an extension on the deadline," Chandler said.
Reached by The Panolian at Tri-Lakes, Corkern acknowledged that he had not mentioned the lawsuit to Chandler or any of the current trustees since learning of the suit February 7.
Corkern also said he has yet to file any papers responding to the lawsuit but expected Chandler and the trustees to take up the matter at the board’s Monday noon meeting.
Regarding the pending sale of Tri-Lakes, Chandler said the lawsuit will not affect the intentions of the bidders.
"The bidders won’t be responsible for this. The owner will, and that’s the taxpayers," Chandler said.
Asked about Prime Care’s charges, Corkern downplayed the lawsuit as an attempt by a "small provider" to get paid before the hospital is sold.
"They don’t want to be left out in the face of the (hospital) sale," Corkern told The Panolian.
"If Dr. Corkern says we want our money before the hospital is sold, he’s exactly right about that," said Barnes, responding to Corkern’s words. "But is $750,000 a ‘small provider’ to (Dr. Corkern)? To us, that’s not small."
Corkern also said that Tri-Lakes is making weekly payments to Prime Care per a verbal agreement to do so.
"We’re paying every week, and we’ve done what we said we would do," Corkern said. "We’re about six months from paying off what we owe them."
According to Barnes, however, Tri-Lakes’ payments to Prime Care have been hit and miss and have picked up only after the lawsuit was filed.
Speaking on behalf of Prime Care owner Emry Oxford, Barnes said that while Corkern may be "under the impression" that the payments are being made, Prime Care is not receiving the monies it’s owed.
Barnes said the Tri-Lakes administration has been promising payments since last fall, when voters were about to cast ballots in November on the sale of the public-owned hospital.
During the weeks leading up to the vote, Barnes said, Shoemaker promised to make payments but told her the hospital staff was focusing on the upcoming referendum.
"He asked us to be patient," she said.
Barnes also said Oxford, the Prime Care owner, met with Corkern in December of last year, asking for payment and promising a lawsuit if the business did not get its monies.