BMH files suit to get investigation information

From the Idaho State Journal

BLACKFOOT — After a series of allegations launched a half million dollar internal investigation into potential improprieties at Bingham Memorial Hospital that led to no reprimands or dismissals, the hospital has filed a suit to force Bingham County to release documents pertaining to its hospital probe.

The documents Bingham Memorial seeks relate to an investigation and related actions by Planning & Zoning Commission Chairman Lee Hammett and others on behalf of the Bingham County commissioners earlier this year.

According to a release from Bingham Memorial’s board of directors, the hospital first made a public records request several months ago. Bingham County did release a number of emails from county Commissioner Ladd Carter and others in response to the public records request, but Hammett’s documents were not produced.

“We were surprised and disappointed that the request for records kept by Mr. Lee Hammett is being denied by the county based on its current position that Mr. Hammett was acting solely as a private individual when he took the actions that we believe wrongly damaged the hospital’s reputation and caused it to suffer significant economic damages,” Dr. Clark Allen, a member of the Bingham Memorial Hospital board said in the release.

The Bingham County Commission is standing by its assertion that any investigation conducted by Hammett was not officially authorized by the county.

“We did not authorize him (Hammett) to do anything for us,” commission Chairman Cleone Jolley said Tuesday.

The county commissioner acknowledged that Hammett had contacted individual commissioners about concerns he had about Bingham Memorial, but the board never authorized Hammett as an agent to conduct any investigation.

“I told him if he had specific information about problems at the hospital we might look at that information, but that was all,” Jolley said. “I guess he (Hammett) took that to mean I authorized an investigation.”

Jolley said no individual commissioner can authorize any official action, adding official actions require a majority of the commissioners to approve it in an open meeting.

In its press release on the lawsuit filed by Bingham Memorial by the law firm of Holland & Hart, the hospital board maintains that “documents and emails that the hospital has obtained to date reflect that Hammett was communicating, coordinating and meeting with county officials.”

“It is troubling that it was only after the hospital’s public records request was made that the county began distancing itself from Hammett, claiming he was not acting under its authority,” Dr. Allen said.

The hospital asserts that the allegations made by Hammett caused harm to the reputation of Bingham Memorial and led to an internal investigation by Holland & Hart that ended up taking nearly 1,500 billable hours of time and a bill of about $500,000.

That internal investigation uncovered some policy problems at the hospital and the misuse of hospital owned equipment by an employee who has since left Bingham Memorial. The only issue uncovered by the internal probe that remains under investigation by the Idaho Attorney General is secret telephone conversation recordings that were made involving three different phones — to a receptionist, nurse and doctor — in one physician’s office at Bingham Memorial. No trace of the recordings, which were made in late June and early July of 2010, have been recovered.

Commissioner Jolley said he felt comfortable with the findings of that internal Bingham Memorial Hospital probe, although he is still waiting on the Attorney General’s findings. As far as additional documentation about any county probe into Bingham Memorial, Jolley said, “We’ve given them all we can.”

The hospital board disagrees.

“It is our hope this suit will yield the information requested and we will be able to achieve some understanding of the elements of the investigation that caused so much needless harm to Bingham Memorial Hospital,” Dr. Allen said in the news release.

Bingham County Prosecutor Scott Andrew said he hasn’t seen the civil complaint that was filed by the hospital Tuesday, but he’ll ask for a judge’s conference to determine the exact elements of the complaint once it is served.

“We’ve turned over everything we have and Lee (Hammett) is not an agent, period,” Andrew said.

From the Idaho State Journal

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