El Paso Children’s Hospital and University Medical Center of El Paso faced each other during a bankruptcy court hearing Tuesday in which charges and countercharges were exchanged.
UMC attorneys tried to persuade U.S. Bankruptcy Judge H. Christopher Mott to rule in favor of allowing UMC to file a restructuring plan for Children’s Hospital, while Children’s Hospital attorneys tried to convince the judge to extend the hospital’s exclusivity period â€” the right for it to come up a restructuring plan with no interference.
Mark Herbers, CEO of Children’s Hospital, said during his testimony that currently there is no restructuring plan, but said Children’s Hospital can file a one without knowing the outcome of the trial.
After five witnesses and about six hours of testimony in El Paso, Mott said he needed time to make a decision. He will rule at 3 p.m. Thursday on whether to extend the time for Children’s Hospital to file a restructuring plan or to terminate its exclusivity so UMC could file a plan.
UMC attorneys argued in court that Mott should end Children’s Hospital’s exclusivity because Children’s Hospital does not have a plan, won’t have a plan and it is expected to run out of money in November. Children’s Hospital’s officials said the hospital has enough money to keep operating until Jan. 30.
Patricia Tomasco, the attorney for Children’s Hospital, argued that UMC’s proposal would give the county hospital preference over other creditors and that under UMC’s plan the amount that Children’s Hospital owes to UMC could not be disputed.
A trial in which Mott will hear the lawsuit that Children’s Hospital filed against UMC, accusing the county hospital of acting fraudulently and saying the pediatric hospital doesn’t owe as much as UMC claims it does, is scheduled for Oct. 22-23 in El Paso.
UMC officials argue that Children’s Hospital owes UMC more than $100 million in rent and services, but Children’s Hospital officials say UMC inflated the cost of services and they should not be paying rent because the hospital building is being paid for with taxpayer’s money.
Emotions ran high when three community pediatricians testified in favor of Children’s Hospital and made clear they don’t want UMC to have any control or influence in decisions made by Children’s Hospital’s board of directors or administration.
Dr. Carlos Gutierrez, who led the effort to establish a children’s hospital in El Paso, said he is concerned that the implementation of UMC’s plan would impact the quality of care provided to children in the community. He fears that many of the subspecialists currently working at the hospital would leave.
“I’m so fearful that a decision like this would set things back tremendously in pediatric medicine in El Paso,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez, an El Pasoan pediatrician for 35 years, said the idea was to have an independent Children’s Hospital, with an independent board and chief executive officer not controlled by another organization.
Steven Ross, a pediatric radiologist at Children’s Hospital, said the doctors’ main concern is that under UMC’s plan, Children’s Hospital’s mission to provide quality care would change. Ross said he personally has experienced UMC’s efforts to block the doctors’ efforts to provide pediatric services.
UMC CEO Jim Valenti said UMC is not looking to control Children’s Hospital, but to establish a separately license hospital with a separate board and CEO.
Under UMC’s proposed plan, the UMC Board of Managers would select the Children’s Hospital Board of Directors. The UMC board and the new Children’s Hospital board would then select a CEO for Children’s Hospital, Valenti said.
He said UMC does not intend to make changes to Children’s Hospital’s operations or clinical services.
Dr. Jagdish D. Patel reiterated Gutierrez’s statement, saying that if UMC selects either Children’s Hospital board members or its CEO, Children’s Hospital won’t be independent.