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Hospital District Board One responds to community questions at special meeting

FOX 9's Adam Klepp attended the over four hour public forum, and breaks down the biggest community concerns

YUMA, Ariz. (KECY, KYMA) - Hundreds of locals showed up to Tuesday night's Hospital District Board One meeting, which lasted over four hours.

Community members touched on several topics, ranging from the District Board tax and paused construction projects, to their overall experience receiving care at YRMC.

Hundreds of locals came out for the meeting at the Yuma Civic Center

Most agreed on one thing, a desire for the YRMC Board of Directors, and the Hospital District Board One, to resolve their issues.

“I’m really frustrated, on the communication between the two boards,” YRMC employee Allison Boehler said.

In the wake of YRMC's decision to exit a potential merger with LifePoint Health, ongoing issues between hospital leadership, and the Hospital District Board, dating back to 2019, are at the forefront.

Both parties are starting the new year on rocky terms.

District Board member Dr. Jeremy Curry maintains YRMC leadership has shut out the District Board.

"That loss of communication is detrimental to improving care at the hospital,” Curry said.

John Sternitzke, YRMC Board of Directors Vice Chair says the District Board is unnecessarily blocking building projects.

“We need to get these projects approved, please don’t stymie us from being able to deliver that,” Sternitzke said.

YRMC is seeking to expand and improve multiple areas of its building and overall care, like laboratory improvements, something YRMC employees say is desperately needed.

“When you have a surgery, and a tissue sample comes out, that's how you're getting your cancer diagnosis. Your blood tests when you're having a stroke or a heart attack in our emergency room, that's the laboratory running the tests," Boehler said. "If we don’t have proper temperature humidity, water supply, drainage from the waste, places to put the new instrumentation, that’s really going to affect your care,"

District Board members say they want to improve hospital facilities as well.

"Now that LifePoint is done we need to figure that out," District Board One Chairman Jeffrey Polston said. “That's our building that’s falling apart."

But they argue they need more up-to-date financial numbers, specifically monthly financial reports from YRMC, to ensure the hospital doesn’t overspend.

"I need the CFO to come talk to me, accountant to accountant, and explain to us how this 95 million dollars, which is more than they’ve ever requested in the history of this board, is going to be paid," Polston said.

Per the terms of the current lease, YRMC must get approval from the district board on construction projects costing over $500,000.

YRMC Leadership claims they have provided enough financial information to prove they can fund the projects, in the form of yearly financial reports.

“There’s no correlation between [the construction projects] and any of the reports that they argue they need to get.” YRMC Board of Directors Treasurer Louie Gradias said.

Another issue raised by locals is the tax levied by the District Board.

“I looked at my tax bill, and thought oh my gosh, I have a tax, for 16 dollars, from the Hospital District,” Community Member Gary Wright said.

Before Tuesday's meeting, one YRMC board member says she doesn't know why they're being taxed.

"We still don’t understand how that was added on and what it’s for. My feeling is it makes no sense,” Dana said.

The Hospital District Board does have taxing powers.

YRMC leadership held a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

It says the tax helps pay their lawyers, representing them in a lawsuit YRMC filed against them.

District Board Members say it's the first time in the board’s 50-year history they have taxed the public.

“In order to protect this district and protect you, we had to have a means in which our attorneys were paid,” Polston said.

YRMC refuses to pay, as they say the invoices sent to them are blacked out.

"We had told them we would pay their legal fees if they told us exactly what took place, and that’s just good business,” YRMC Board of Directors Chair Woody Martin said.

District Board Chair Polston says they're redacted due to attorney-client privilege.

In 2020, Chairman Polston sent YRMC a proposed budget of $3 million. A substantial increase over the usual $30,000 budget normally sent for administrative expenses, which YRMC has always paid.

Chairman Polston says this number was an estimate.

"We had no idea of potential fees to get information out of YRMC that the Policies and Procedures Agreement requires,” Polston said.

He says as of early Janurary, the District Board has spent about $700 thousand in legal fees for their representation, Scottsdale-based Kutak Rock LLP, and that the public is currently being taxed on an estimate of $1.2 million dollars for the year.

Polston and attorneys from Kutak Rock say if the District Board were to win the lawsuit against YRMC, the public would be re-imbursed for the current property tax.

“There would be a mechanism where those taxes levied will be refunded in future tax years back to the members of the district,” Polston said.

Both boards have expressed a willingness to sit down and talk through their issues together.

For now it is unclear if, or when such a meeting could take place.

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Adam Klepp

Adam Klepp is excited to start his first job in the broadcast news industry as the FOX9 at 9 anchor and as a reporter at 5 and 6 on News 11.

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