BINGHAM COUNTY, Idaho - Bingham County Commissioners are clearing up what they call "misunderstanding and misinformation" when it comes to the county's relationship with Bingham Memorial Hospital.
At an open meeting Tuesday afternoon, commissioner Cleone Jolley presented a statement describing the county as a landlord and Bingham Memorial a tenant.
There have been some accusations recently, from an employee who said she was told to get rid of drugs so the hospital could pass an audit, to a former manager allegedly running a scheme to profit from the hospital's time and money.
Tuesday's statement means commissioners will make sure terms of the 2007 lease are being met, but it's still up to the hospital board to deal with questions and concerns that have been raised.
Local people filled the Bingham County Commissioners' chambers for the short and sweet meeting.
"This is an open meeting, not a public hearing," Jolley said. "We will not be taking questions or allowing people to make comments."
Commissioner Chairman Jolley continued to read a two-page, single-spaced statement. He said in 2007, Bingham County transferred operations of what had been the county hospital over to BMH, Inc., which is a private, 501 (c) 3 non-profit.
Jolley said the county owns the building and land, but has no authority when it comes to business operations.
"If people have information, questions or concerns about the business operations or day-to-day operations of the hospital, those should be directed to the hospital's board of directors," Jolley said.
Jolley said commissioners will engage in a dialogue with Bingham Memorial to investigate concerns that would violate the 2007 lease agreement.
Everything else, he said, is up to the hospital's board of directors. County Prosecutor Scott Andrew gave them a vote of confidence.
"I have no reason to believe the hospital board isn't capable of addressing concerns that have been raised," said Andrew.
"Is it a conflict of interest, though, if some of them are leasing buildings to the hospital and making a large amount of money?" asked reporter Marissa Bodnar. "I mean, is that a concern?"
"Well, plenty of people have voiced that concern," said Andrew.
According to 990 tax forms from 2009, board members Gordon Arave and John Fullmer each profited from a $187,740 transaction by leasing physician office space to Bingham Memorial through their joint company, Crestwood Enterprises.
In 2010, according to tax forms, that number was $101,570.
Andrew said if it were a county hospital, that would be illegal. But it's a nonprofit.
"I haven't heard anything at this point that would make that criminal," said Andrew. "When you say, 'Hospital board members are making money leasing property,' does it have a stink factor? It probably does initially. But like everything, you've got to look beyond that."
Our station reached out to several board members and the hospital with a couple of questions.
First, when does the board plan to answer commissioners' request for a forensic audit?
Second, while the prosecutor said it's not illegal, why should the public trust that board members will fully investigate concerns when some are profiting off of building leases?
The only board member we were able to reach was John Fullmer, who referred us to hospital attorneys.
A Bingham Memorial spokesperson responded with a statement Tuesday night saying: "We are proud of our hospital's growth. We are proud of our physicians and we are proud of our employees. Our current board of directors has diligently worked to guide us in our rapid progress. We fully trust them."
We hit the web to find out what the IRS says about the role of boards in 501 (c) 3 organizations, and found a document on good governance practices: "The organization's governing body bears the ultimate responsibility for setting ethical standards and ensuring they permeate the organization and inform its practices."
"I guess whether people think my trust is misplaced or not, (we've) got to trust them to do the right thing; give them the opportunity to investigate it, to address it," said Andrew. "And judge it once they've done whatever they're going to do."
Andrew said Blackfoot Police are aware of, and investigating, one particular incident alleged to have happened at Bingham Memorial. He didn't say which specific allegation. Andrew said he plans to meet with Chief Dave Moore on Thursday.
The statement from Bingham Memorial also said the hospital seeks constant improvement and welcomes active dialogue with county commissioners.