Putnam hospital officials silent on allegations of crippling debt

Putnam County Memorial Hospital (KTVO)

The house of cards holding together Putnam County Memorial Hospital has begun to collapse, according to multiple people associated with the facility and hospital operations.

The abrupt resignation of CEO Cindy Cummings and her husband, COO Jerry Cummings on Tuesday may have been too little, too late to save a hospital that is reportedly millions of dollars in debt, hemorrhaging doctors and staff and has had difficulty paying employees.

Dr. Robert Jackson, of the Premier Specialty Network in Columbia, Mo., says the three years under the Cummingses' leadership turned on a dime from promising back to dire straits. Jackson's company was instrumental in bringing the Cummingses to Unionville in 2012, when they were widely credited with saving a hospital that was days away from closing.

But within a few months, Jackson and others said a series of questionable decisions and "cronyism" plunged the hospital into worse shape than it had been in before.

And after three years, the board of trustees had apparently had enough of its husband and wife team.

"I think the lies had become so evident that it became obvious to keep drinking the Kool-Aid would be suicidal," Jackson said.

Jackson says he is one of several creditors owed substantial amounts of money by the hospital. In his case, Jackson says it's relatively little when compared to others: between $120,000 and $150,000.

An administrator at a different Missouri hospital says Putnam County Memorial has expanded its debt by more than $8 million since the Cummingses took over in 2012. The administrator, who has knowledge of the hospital's financials, told KTVO that it was carrying $13,443,996 of debt in its 2013 audit report.

Multiple current and former employees tell KTVO the hospital has struggled to make the last two payrolls.

Contrary to the picture the Cummingses had painted in public, the hospital has allegedly been steadily in the red since it nearly closed in 2011 with losses topping $700,000 in each year.

What's not in dispute is that the Cummingses did help the hospital stay afloat in 2012 by successfully pushing initiatives to restructure county bond debt and enacting a 1 percent sales tax to help the hospital's coffers.

But according to Jackson and other sources, that was quickly squandered.

"The Cummings administration had gone into disarray, mismanagement and corruption," Jackson, who is still listed as a provider on the hospital's website, told KTVO Thursday. "[Jerry Cummings] made some tremendous miscalculations."

Some decisions, though, Jackson and others say, weren't miscalculations.

The ratio of employees to admissions remains sky high at Putnam Memorial compared to other hospitals in the region. According to the American Hospital Association, Sullivan County Memorial Hospital in Milan, Mo., is nearly identical in the number of admissions: 211 in Putnam County, 213 in Sullivan. But Putnam County employs 137 at its hospital, while Sullivan County employs only 75.

Consequently, the AHA reports Putnam's total expenses to be nearly double those of the hospital a half hour away in Milan: $14 million to $7 million.

"A small community losing its hospital is devastating," Jackson said. "It's one of its top employers, and it's hard to recruit new business to a town that doesn't have a hospital. A good way to shut down a community? Close its hospital."

The first step to fixing things, Jackson and the administrator said, is accountability and transparency to the public that's on the hook for the hospital's debt.

Nathan Baughman, compliance officer at Putnam County Memorial, is heading up the five-person executive team in charge of running day-to-day operations.

He declined comment to KTVO Thursday.

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