A decision by South Central Kansas Medical Center CEO Jeff Bowman to change collection agencies was the subject of a special meeting of hospital board called Monday on short notice.
Since 2012, collections on bills that are past due have been performed by the Law office of Tamara Niles PA. Bowman wants to turn those responsibilities over to Soule and Giles, the firm that currently serves as legal counsel for SCKMC.
Niles, who also is the city attorney for Ark City, is displeased with that decision and is using intimidation tactics in response, Bowman told trustees.
Bowman said his main reason for the change was a savings in cost. He said Niles currently receives 30 percent of all funds collected. He said Soule and Giles have agreed to a commission of 25 percent, which could result in a savings of $50,000 or more each year for SCKMC.
“I’m looking into every avenue and every area where I can save money,” he said. “This is one that made sense.”
After notifying Niles by email of the change, Bowman said she responded by requesting that he execute and return an updated fee agreement. He said she attached the same agreement the hospital had agreed to in 2012. That contract expired in 2015, he said. and no new contract was enacted.
“She replied that she wanted me to reconsider and requested a meeting,” Bowman said. “I didn’t see that email until much later.”
At the meeting, for which only two hours notice was given to local media, Bowman handed out emails to trustees but declined to provide a copy to a reporter, and the hospital legal counsel said they needed to consider the request before deciding.
Bowman said Medical Staff Coordinator Ryan Helmer received an email from Niles, requesting documents under the Kansas Open Records Act (KORA).
“The bylaws, my contracts, their contracts, anything individually,” he said.
Additionally, the hospital’s attorneys said Niles also requested the agenda and minutes from the Sept. 18 meeting, and a copy of the contracts with former medical center legal counsel Otis Morrow.
Bowman said he sees the actions being taken by Niles, who is also the city attorney, as an intimidation tactic related to his decision not to renew with her firm.
“She’s made it very adversarial in my opinion,” he said. “I don’t have any desire to really work with her or try to build a bridge.”
Contacted on Monday after the meeting, Niles said it would be inappropriate for her to comment.
“I cannot comment on any matters between myself and a client under Kansas attorney ethics rules,” she said.
Along with the records request, Bowman said Niles has also threatened to get a legal opinion. Referring to an email from Niles, Commissioner Dan Jurkovich asked the SCKMC attorneys about the term quantum meruit.
Attorney Clayton Soule explained that the term referred to an area of law where a contract is not fully performed or brought to completion.
“So essentially, she is in an indirect fashion threatening to sue the hospital if she doesn’t get to keep the funds coming in for cases she has in litigation in her office right now,” he said.
Bowman said he communicated with Niles in May, asking her to have all of the files in her possession ready to transfer to the new agency by June 25. She responded on June 16, and said it would take her some time to gather that information.
“She’s impeding our business being able to transfer over efficiently,” he said. “She’s also asking for monetary reimbursement, which is nothing in her contract.”
“She hasn’t had a contract for three and a half years,” he added.
Bowman added that Niles had said the trustee board was going to delay his decision to change agencies.
Board members said no such contact or decision had been made with Niles, and affirmed that any such decisions was not the board’s responsibility, but belonged to the CEO.
“The way I look at it, it should be the CEO’s decision,“ Mayor Jay Warren said. “Now with this going on, it disturbs me what’s she’s doing, it really does.”
Jurkovich suggested that Bowman consider trying to talk to Niles face-to-face rather than through email, and see if things could be smoothed out. He said the Niles family does a lot of good in the community, and perhaps the commission should try to put itself in her shoes.
“If you imagine someone was taking business away from you so to speak, you would try to win it back and not lose it,” he said.
Jurkovich said it was reasonable for Niles to want to know why the change was being made, but agreed that making an records request was not the best way to create a friendly bridge.
Commissioner Karen Welch also said she also felt that more communication was necessary.
“We need to come to an understanding between individuals,” she said.
Niles has served as city attorney for more than a decade. The hospital trustees are the city commissioners.
Bowman said he would not meet with Niles unless the SCKMC attorneys were present, along with his personal attorney.
“It’s become that adversarial,” he said. “She sent another email today requesting new KORA documents, she is actively trying to intimidate me and I don’t understand why.”
Attorney Chad Giles advised Bowman not to pursue further contact with Niles. He said the situation had gotten to the point where he didn’t see any benefit, and urged him to use extreme caution if he did decide to have any further discussion.
“We tried to meet with her Monday, but she refused to speak to us,” he said.
A contract with Soule and Giles is already in place. The firm is to take over collections on June 25, and has hired additional staff to take on the new workload.