Horton Community Hospital employees haven't been paid since Feb. 15, and at least one employee indicated the hospital will close Friday if employees aren't paid.
Ty Compton, CEO of the Horton hospital, confirmed that employees didn't receive their paychecks on the previous payday. He was told by hospital ownership, Miami-based iHealthcare, that "they're working on it."
"I am doing the best I can and I believe all the employees and staff are doing the best they can do as well," Compton said. "Obviously, everyone has to be paid."
One former employee, who asked not to be named over concerns she would anger hospital management, left after a paycheck was delayed in early February.
"I’m a single mom," she said. "I can’t afford to not get my paycheck on time."
But now she hasn't received her final paycheck, and she is being told a different date when payment will be received every time she calls HCH. The CEO is no longer taking her calls, the former employee said.
Another employee, who still works there and also asked not to be named, shared correspondence to nurses that indicated the hospital would close Friday if paychecks aren't received.
Asked whether the hospital would close on Friday if employees weren't paid, Compton said: "I’m not aware of that. There’s all kinds of speculation. There is nothing set in stone."
A person answering phones at iHealthcare hung up when a reporter asked to speak with someone who handles media questions.
Compton said several employees had left the hospital but many were sticking with HCH and keeping the doors open.
"That shows you the quality of employees we have," he said. "That’s the human interest, is that these employees are so devoted and so dedicated to each other and to the health care in the community."
Compton said HCH is currently providing all of its usual services, including operation of a rural health care clinic, and that the hospital would close down should any quality of service be affected.
"We’re not going to put anyone’s health in jeopardy, so if something comes up that we’re not able to, then we’ll take those measures," he said.
"(I) wish there was a way to stop this or someone would come buy us," the current employee said. "There has to be something."
HCH's 40 to 50 employees are caught up in troubles created by its former owner, EmpowerHMS, a subsidiary of Miami-based The Empower Group, which faces failures in multiple hospitals nationwide. In January, management of the hospitals, according to Securities & Exchange Commission record filings, transitioned to iHealthcare.
Those records indicate that the leader of The Empower Group, Jorge A. Perez, continues to be involved. Perez and others in his organization also are facing lawsuits regarding a laboratory billing scheme.
Two other Kansas hospitals were embroiled in the EmpowerHMS failures, with Oswego Community Hospital announcing its closure Feb. 14 and the courts stepping in to put Hillsboro Community Hospital in receivership.
The Hillsboro hospital is in danger of closing, reported the Hillsboro Free Press, if the courts won't turn complete control of the hospital over to a management company. A hearing is set for March 5 in Marion County District Court.
For Horton, the loss of a community hospital is scary and concerning. Former Mayor Tim Lentz told The Capital-Journal in February that the loss of jobs would be devastating for Horton.
"At the end of the day, for economic development, we want the damned hospital,” Lentz said. “We need the hospital. I shouldn’t say we want — we need the hospital. It’s very vital to our community.”
John Calhoon, who is Horton's city administrator and police chief, said Tuesday that the community is concerned but there is little it can do about the situation because the hospital is privately owned. iHealthcare is one, almost two, months behind on utility payments to the city, he said. He hasn't talked with anyone with the company for "a while."
"There’s a lot of different entities aware of the potential situation," Calhoon said. "There’s a lot of concerns. The city’s talking to a lot of different people, but at this point, it’s difficult to move forward or make any plans until something actually happens, and it may not be easy after that."
Calhoon said city officials have no idea whether there are other liens against the hospital or what the exact financial situation is.
The hospital and other Horton properties owned by CAH Acquisition Co. #3 LLC, which is one of the companies that is part of the Perez empire, are seriously delinquent on their taxes.
According to Brown County Treasurer Cheryl Lippold, the hospital facility at 210 W. 18th St. has taxes due for 2014 through 2018, totaling $138,893.16 as of Tuesday. Other properties the company owns also are behind on taxes for several years, with a tax debt of just over $81,000.
The loss of 40-plus jobs in a small community like Horton will be difficult, Calhoon said.
"It’s going to have a tremendous impact on us," he said. "It will have a trickle down effect in the whole community. They’re not being right for the community and they’re not being right for their employees, who have been dedicated for so long. They’re very loyal. They want to do everything they can to keep the hospital. They can only hold out so far, because they’ve got families to raise and support."
Compton said he hopes that if the worst happens and HCH closes, the owners would be willing to offer someone else the option to take over the facility.
The HCH employees deserve that, he said.
"This is Kansas. This is part of what makes rural Kansas the best place to live, is when you have people who work and who are devoted and dedicated to their jobs," he said.