• August 22, 2019

AG: Some MCHS info requested is public - Odessa American: Ector County Hospital District

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AG: Some MCHS info requested is public

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Posted: Thursday, July 18, 2019 5:41 pm

The Texas Attorney General’s Office stated in a recent letter that some of the information requested from Medical Center Health System in April is public information including a separation agreement that paid a former employee more than $30,000.

The Odessa American and CBS7 both sent in similar requests for information on Rick Napper, who was MCHS’ CEO at the time, and former Vice President of Provider/Community Relations Tracy Green whose employment ended April 4.

Hospital officials have refused to say whether Green had been fired or quit, and Ector County Hospital District board members said they were not given much information about Green’s exit since they do not handle those kinds of personnel issues.

The health system hired an Austin legal team at Walsh Gallegos to fight the Freedom of Information Act requests.

Green’s personnel file was released soon after, but the legal team requested the AG’s determination on what they titled Exhibit 3 and Exhibit 4, citing a number of exemptions, to keep the information requested under wraps.

Following the AG’s determination, Exhibit 4, which was a separation agreement and release for Green, was released to the OA and CBS7.

The recently released separation agreement shows Green received regular pay through her separation date, April 4, all accrued but unused vacation as set forth in the employer’s vacation policy, and received eight weeks of severance pay which totaled $30,308.24.

Green’s personnel filed shows she received nearly $14,000 for relocation expenses, and agreed to a stipulation that should she leave MCHS or have a change in full-time employment status within 24 months of employment, she must reimburse MCHS in full, but it was unclear if Green reimbursed the health system.

Green was hired on as executive director of provider relations and recruitment on April 30, 2018. Eight months later she was promoted to vice president of provider and community relations and received a nearly $20 an hour raise – from $75.51 an hour to $94 an hour.

Ector County Hospital District board member Bryn Dodd previously told the OA at that time their director of communications, Jacqui Gore, left MCH and it was Dodd’s understanding Green was covering that area until someone was hired.

Green’s personnel file shows she was referred for her new vice president position by Napper, who also referred Green to her original position when she was hired last year. Both Green and Napper worked for Catholic Health Initiatives Memorial Health in Chattanooga, Tenn., around the same time.

Napper was the president of the Chattanooga campus in 2013 and served as executive vice president and chief operating officer for the health system there before taking a position in Bryan as president and CEO of CHI St. Joseph Health in November 2015. He was then hired as the CEO at MCHS in December 2017.

After not even a year-and-a-half with the health system Napper announced in a May press release he would retire Sept. 15 and he ended up retiring even earlier on June 14. His decision to retire came shortly after the number of FOIA requests and several weeks of personal time off the CEO took following an April board meeting. It was also around the same time Green’s employment ended.

Napper announced during a June board meeting he came to MCH with the intent of improving the organization, building credibility and expanding its reputation.

“I cannot stay if I violate any of those things, and I feel that when the confidence of the employees no longer rests in their CEO, then it is time for that CEO to move on,” Napper said during the meeting. “It is time for Rick Napper to leave health care altogether.”

He and his wife planned to move to their new home in Kentucky, the OA previously reported.

Chief Financial Officer at the time, Robert Abernethy, is now serving as interim CEO.

The OA and CBS7 requested information regarding Napper’s time off, paid or unpaid, in 2019 but did not receive any information on it. It was unclear Thursday whether that information should have been withheld.

MCHS Paralegal to Chief Legal Counsel Kerstin Connolly, who emailed the AG’s determination and Green’s separation agreement, could not be reached by phone Thursday. Administrative staff said Connolly was not in the office Thursday afternoon.

The AG’s office determined that the health system did not need to release information titled Exhibit 3, citing the Texas Rule of Evidence 503, which enacts attorney-client privilege. In Walsh Gallego’s request for a determination from the AG, it states the documents in Exhibit 3 had not been shared with anyone, inside or outside the district, other than MCHS’s Chief Legal Counsel Ellie Bane and her staff and all underlying communications and notes were made for the purpose of evaluating legal issues facing the district.

Other requests for exceptions labeled Exhibit 3 as information that was “highly intimate or embarrassing, such that its release would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person,” and “of no legitimate concern to the public.”

A portion of the letter was redacted indicating an investigation had taken place and the Exhibit 3 documents constituted as “audit working papers” which were prepared and maintained as part of the audit/investigation, but several board members previously told the OA they were not aware of any kind of investigation regarding Green’s employment.

The AG’s letter of determination stated information in Exhibit 3 consists of a completed investigation and must be released; however, under Texas Rule of Evidence 503, it could be withheld.

Walsh Gallegos also requested an AG’s determination on a separate FOIA request the OA sent April 26 for copies of any expense reports submitted for or by Green, as well as any copies of any findings, notes or reports associated with Green’s expense reports during her employment with MCHS.

The letter cited all of the same exceptions listed in the first request, the only difference showing a paragraph that appeared to be redacted in the first request for determination.

“The information contained in Exhibit 3 demonstrates that the District received a report of an alleged violation of a law or District policy that is within the purview of the District’s enforcement authority. The informer’s identity is not known to the requestor. As such, the information marked at Exhibit 3 should (be) withheld under the informer’s privilege as incorporated by section 552.101 of the Government Code,” the paragraph stated.

It was unclear on Thursday whether MCHS had received a separate determination from the AG’s office regarding the separate request.

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