Friday, May 19, 2017

City Attorney Recuses Self from Program Negotiations

Sallisaw City Attorney John Robert Montgomery has recused himself from working on the Upper Payment Limit (UPL) program between the city and Sequoyah Memorial Hospital.

The UPL program would provide additional money for the Sallisaw hospital by overseeing area nursing homes. The program is funded through Medicaid and requires the city to become the owner of the license of participating nursing home facilities, while the current owners of the nursing homes become the managing partners. Any nursing home facilities within 150 mile radius, within Oklahoma, are eligible to partner with the City of Sallisaw, the primary support of the hospital, to participate in the UPL program. Since the city also oversees the hospital, Montgomery is attorney for both.

But the hospital’s working law firm, Newton O’Connor Turner & Ketchum of Tulsa, and attorney Kirk Turner notified Montgomery in a letter dated May 16 that Montgomery should recuse himself from the negotiations between the hospital and city “Because you have received confidential, privileged information from the Hospital and its Board that could adversely affect the Hospital if you continue to represent the City, your continued representation of the City creates a classic conflict of interest situation.”

Montgomery agreed to recuse himself Wednesday during a special city meeting. The special meeting was originally scheduled to discuss the city’s budget, but discussion of the UPL program was added on after the discussion extended from its original proposal on March 29 through several other meetings.

Sallisaw Mayor Jim Hudgens said he wants more information on the program, which accountants for the program and nursing homes agreed to provide.

John Cripps, Sallisaw attorney who serves as president of the hospital’s board of directors, said the city will look for another attorney to fill Montgomery’s vacancy. Cripps said the delays have already resulted in the hospital losing several nursing homes whose owners hoped to participate in the program.

“Five Oklahoma cities, including Hugo and Cleveland, are already signed up for the program,” Cripps said. But he added that the state’s program must still be approved by the federal government.

“We don’t have federal approval yet,” Cripps said. “We’re just trying to get on board early.”

Cripps said there is a May 31 deadline to participate in the program’s next financial quarter, and, because of the delays, several nursing homes have already withdrawn the request to partner with the city and Sequoyah Memorial Hospital and are seeking other partners.

The program is expected to provide an estimated $1 million plus yearly to the hospital, which constantly battles financial problems. The benefit of the UPL program, beyond improving the level of healthcare provided by the nursing home facilities, is that as the city seeks reimbursement of program dollars from Medicaid, there is a negotiated split of funds between the nursing home managing partners and Sequoyah Memorial Hospital, after all expenses are paid. 

Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director

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