The South Central Kansas Medical Center Board of Trustees appeared to commit two technical violations of the Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA) during a June 12 meeting at City Hall.

These violations occurred when the five city commissioners, who also serve as the hospital trustees, made and voted on separate motions to enter into a pair of executive sessions during the meeting.

The first executive session was for consultation with an attorney on matters of attorney-client privilege at the beginning of the meeting, while the second was to discuss matters of non-elected personnel, near the end of the meeting.

The first session lasted 15 minutes and was followed by an additional session lasting 17 minutes. Hospital CEO Virgil Watson, an attorney named Gary Ayers and three former trustees — JoLynn Foster, Carol Hearne and Karen Zeller — also were included in these executive sessions.

The session for non-elected personnel discussion lasted about 10 minutes. Only Watson joined the five current trustees in this session.

No action followed any of the executive sessions. Neither SCKMC board attorney Otis Morrow nor City Attorney Tamara Niles were present at the meeting.

Nature of violations

In making its motions to enter executive session, the board did not adhere to recently amended state statute or a Kansas Attorney General’s Office opinion in January that clarified this new section of KOMA. Both require three components in any motion to enter executive session:

  1. The justification for closing the meeting, as listed in KOMA;
  2. The subject(s) to be discussed during the closed session;
  3. The time and location at which the open meeting will resume.

The opinion states: “The statement (in the motion) describing the subject(s) to be discussed must be more than a generic or vague summary, or a list of the subject(s) to be discussed.”

During the first motion, an objection was raised that “attorney-client privilege” was the justification, but was not a sufficient description of the subject to be discussed in executive session. The vague phrase “legal matters of a confidential nature” then was added to the motion as a subject.

For the second motion, this reporter raised an objection that the board treasurer Jay Warren’s motion also did not meet the requirements — this concern was echoed by City of Arkansas City Public Information Officer Andrew Lawson — but the objection was met with some confusion from the board members.

“Do we need an attorney?” asked trustee Karen Welch. “I want to get this right,” said board secretary Duane Oestmann.

Mayor Dan Jurkovich — who currently also serves as chairman of the SCKMC Board of Trustees — then attempted to make a motion that was more in line with KOMA by quoting statutory language, but he did not provide any additional information regarding the subject to be discussed in the executive session.

“I move we adjourn to executive session to reconvene at 7:15 (p.m.) for personnel matters related to non-elected personnel,” he said.

Jurkovich attended the meeting via conference call due to a contagious illness. Kanyon Gingher, vice chair of the board, presided over the meeting.

Attorney weighs in

Following the meeting, Ark City Daily Bytes contacted the Kansas Press Association (KPA) about the executive session motions.

“My opinion is that when the (board) recessed into executive session … they did not provide a statement for why they went into executive session,” said KPA attorney and legal advisor Max Kautsch of the third executive session.

“The statute requires that a statement more than a generic or vague summary of matters to be discussed (has to be made).”

In the first motion, the board gave a statement regarding the nature of the business to be discussed, including the justification that it was for a matter of attorney-client privilege, but the accompanying statement lacked any additional detail.

Jurkovich listed “legal matters of a confidential nature” as the subject matter. Kautsch said this statement did not provide an adequate summary of the business to be discussed.

The second motion to enter into executive session also was incomplete, he said. In this case, no subject was provided at all — just a restatement of the justification under KOMA.

Morrow could not be contacted for comment. Niles declined to comment on this matter because she was not present, nor does she represent the SCKMC Board of Trustees.

TransWise audit

In other business, the trustees voted unanimously to accept an offer of a free billing and coding audit from TransWise, LLC.

TransWise is a company based in Texas that provides several services to medical facilities to assist with medical coding and billing processes.

The chief executive officer of the company, Jeff Bowman, graduated in 1981 from Arkansas City High School.

His company previously offered to perform an audit shortly after the Quorum report was generated in late 2016, according to Watson.

Jurkovich asked why the offer was not accepted at that time.

Watson indicated there had been fees that totaled somewhere near $60,000 attached to the offer the first time.

The new offer specifies that the company will remote in electronically to perform the audit.

While the vote was unanimous, Jurkovich told Watson that if the cost of setting up the technology needed or in staff time becomes too significant, he is to report back to the board before moving forward.

Intensive Care Unit

The board also discussed at length the ongoing lack of a full-time Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at SCKMC.

There has been much confusion about the existence of this unit since April, when a former trustee indicated there was not an ICU, but Watson countered that there still was.

Currently, while there are rooms in which a patient can receive near-ICU treatment, there are not dedicated staff members assigned to the ICU.

As it stands, the rooms do not have access to oxygen direct from a piping system, so any ICU patient to be cared who needed oxygen would have to use canisters of air, according to Tracy Austin, director of nursing.

However, there are rooms that can be reorganized to serve as ICU rooms that would have the appropriate hardware and equipment, she said.

The staffing for an ICU unit also is different, according to Austin, who also said that staffing is all the hospital lacks to reopen a 24-7 ICU.

Nurses who staff ICU rooms are trained to handle more intensive care than the average nurse employed at the hospital, she indicated.

Asked why there were no nurses who could cover the ICU, Austin cited insufficient funds to pay such nurses.

They would need to be paid between $27 and $32 an hour, she said, whereas current nursing staff — even longtime employees — only receive an average pay of between $23 and $26 an hour.

Jurkovich said he would like to see how much the hospital needs to raise the pay rates of current nurses, relative to comparable hospitals in Kansas, as well as how it might be able to find the funds to hire the nurses needed to staff an ICU.

Austin indicated she could provide those numbers at the next board meeting.

In other business, the trustees:

  • approved the May 24 regular meeting minutes.
  • discussed promotion efforts for the upcoming Health Care Sales Tax question.
  • discussed the possibility of creating a list of hospital priorities going forward.

The June 12 meeting can be viewed in its entirety at www.youtube.com/watch?v=5TdWKJe_UHY.