Our View: Methodist LeBonheur not liable in hospital suit

If things simply didn’t go bad enough for the 170 former laid-off employees of the now defunct Crittenden Memorial Hospital it appears a federal judge is now telling them their quest to be compensated for their health insurance premiums they assumed were being paid by hospital administrators will not be the responsibility of Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare. The judge ruled that Methodist LeBonheur would not be held liable and that their inclusion in a lawsuit would null and void, which means their attorney will have to come up with some other plan of action. As most of us are aware, more than 170 plaintiffs filed suit against the Crittenden Hospital Association, Cigna Health and Life Insurance Co. and Methodist LeBonheur after the 150-bed hospital closed in September 2014. At that time, then CEO Gene Cashman said the hospital simply could not pay the $30 million it owed. It was thought that Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare might be included in the lawsuit in that Cashman sought advice from them. But, according to the federal judge, Methodist LeBonheur could not held liable under U.S. Department of Labor laws. Sadly to say, Methodist LeBonheur was simply not a party of interest in the filings, which were being based on the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. That federal law sets minimum standards for most voluntarily established pension and health plans. There is a ray of hope in all this in that the judge denied a similar request for dismissal filed by Cigna and that, according to the Memphis attorney who represents the plaintiffs is positive. As those of us who depended upon Crittenden Memorial Hospital for decades to treat our emergencies and other medical needs the shocking and sudden closure came as a total surprise, especially after we were asked to pass a penny sales tax to keep the hospital open. There have been a lot of victims as a result of this unfortunate and costly situation, particularly those employees who, one day found themselves with gainful employment and the next in the unemployment line. Still, we’re told there are several former CRH employees out of work, some simply gave up, others have moved away to other cities where there are better job opportunities and still others forced to travel to Memphis to earn a living. Local emergency care has been lacking since CRH’s demise and emergency medical teams from West Memphis, Marion and private providers have been severely challenged to insure not only quick response time but transporting patients with immediate needs to Memphis medical facilities. And, once again, we must recognize the tremendous amount of effort, energy and leadership displayed by Crittenden County Judge Woody Wheeless in his tireless effort to re-open the hospital under new management. While he has been met with some disappointing obstacles we remain optimistic that Crittenden Countians will soon be at ease knowing we have a major medical provider to address serious and emergency situations without having to depend on Memphis emergency facilities.

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