The Ector County Hospital District board of trustees will meet during a special session Friday to vote on a mediated settlement agreement involving Medical Center Hospital retirees.
The meeting is set for 5 p.m. Friday in the boardroom at Medical Center Hospital, 500 W. Fourth St. The board is expected to meet behind closed doors to discuss the case for the second time this month prior to voting on the settlement agreement Friday. The board went behind closed doors during a regularly scheduled meeting March 6 to discuss a litigation update on the case.
“I can’t discuss the details because of pending litigation,” District 1 board member Bryn Dodd said Wednesday.
But she did say she was shocked because the issue came up faster than she expected. Dodd said she thought the case may get put on the backburner due to the financial situation the hospital is currently in, but will be happy if they can come up with some kind of agreement for everyone involved.
The ECHD board voted in October 2016 to kick about 380 retirees off the hospital insurance plan and created Health Reimbursement Accounts for them instead, but many of the retirees have said it wasn’t enough to cover secondary insurance policies.
Board members at the time said the cuts were expected to save the hospital about $3.25 million.
A group of 317 retirees and dependents then sued Medical Center Hospital to get their original healthcare benefits reinstated, but in April they lost a court battle when a judge found the group failed to show there had been a contract where the hospital district waived the immunity it has as a governmental entity from such lawsuits.
The group retaliated in May by helping new hospital board candidates campaign and successfully unseat the incumbents in districts 1, 5 and 7.
Since being elected last year, two of those new board members, Dodd and District 5’s Don Hallmark fought remaining longtime board members and former administration to find a solution both parties could agree on.
In July, Hallmark presented a new proposal to try to reinstate some of those benefits, but it was shot down in a 4-3 vote with many board members saying it was a numbers issue. Dodd and District 2’s Mary Lou Anderson, both of whom have family members who are retirees, voted in favor of the proposal with Hallmark.
Instead, a proposal by District 7’s Ben Quiroz was approved that allowed the rollover of funds in the HRAs.
After that meeting, MCH retiree and former HR director David Meisell said many of those HRAs went untouched because retirees were afraid to use them. They were under the impression it would jeopardize their right to use the hospital over the benefit changes. Not only that, but some didn’t have the $1,000 to front for their premium, he said.
Quiroz said during the July meeting it would be best to let litigation run its course since an appeal had been filed because of a failed mediation attempt following the court’s decision in April.
Hallmark said Wednesday he thinks something has finally been agreed upon that will work for everybody.
“I have no idea what the agreement is, but I can tell you this: it was brought back because of the change of our administration. Our administration has seen, not just with the retirees, but with their current employees, the dissatisfaction of how that happened,” Hallmark said.
It was a need that had to be filled and the current administration put it back together, he said.
“I feel overwhelmed that we have fought this fight continuously, have not won a vote, but have changed it all,” he added. “It was a fight against past administration, a bad plan or no plan and a board that answered yes way too often.”
The board is also expected to consider an 1115 Waiver consultant agreement with Gjerset and Lorenz LLP., during the Friday meeting.