2012-03-23 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Some Important Questions For Todd Miller
Commentary By Howard Schwach

I started something of a firestorm among the employees of Peninsula Hospital Center by writing in a March 9 editorial, “It is better to have no hospital at all than it is to have one that kills its patients through inattention and a desire to save money for its owners.”

The sentence was hyperbole, and perhaps the staff did not understand that, and I apologize to staff members who were offended.

Unfortunately, if you read all the documents closely, it is not far from the truth and in my perspective, Todd Miller has a lot of explaining to do. He will no longer speak with the press, so this is the only way I can ask him those important questions.

The most important being, where do Miller’s loyalty lies.

He worked for many years as a high official at Revival Home Health Care. When that group bailed out the failing hospital center, Miller was moved in as its CEO, a mandate in the original contract between PHC and Revival.

He then brought in several other Revival executives to take similar jobs at PHC and began making deals with Revival offshoots and suppliers.

While the state’s health department accepted the fiction that Revival had just loaned money to PHC and had nothing to do with its governance, the Federal Bankruptcy Court and a Federal Trustee brought in to assure the rights of the debtors did not buy that fiction.

They looked at the fact that Miller was still being paid by Revival two months into his tenure at PHC as an indicator of for whom he was really working.

Our local board, wanting badly to keep the hospital open and willing to sell their souls to the devil to do so, went along and hired Miller and did the bidding of Revival without question.

Another clue. When a December 2011 internal report pointed out the hospital laboratory was toxic and that it would never pass a state inspection, that report was shared with Miller and Revival, but not with the locals who sit on the board.

What did Miller and Revival do with the information? They began a study and plan to remediate the problem, but so little was done between late December and February that the state finally did shut down the lab.

Why was the report kept from the local board?

Because Miller has no loyalty to the board, nor did they have any real say in what went on in the hospital except to rubber stamp the decisions of Miller and Revival.

So, the first question is, “Where does your loyalty lie, Todd Miller.”

Second question, “Why was the December 26 report, that predicted the lab closedown in February, kept from the operating board and everybody else?

The internal December 26 report, penned by Jack Deutsch, PhD, was based on the scientist’s “direct observations and discussion with hospital administration.”

The five-page report concluded,If a state inspection were to take place in the near future, the laboratory would be shut. As it is, patient health is being jeopardized every time a test is performed.”

If that is not a call to action, then I have not been doing this for 50 years.

Miller, however, did not consider it important enough to share with his operating committee – his supposed bosses.

There can be only one explanation, and that is that he wanted to keep it secret from them for his own purposes.

Did he share it with the owners of Revival? I have no evidence that he did, and he won’t talk to me about it, but I would bet the farm that he did.

Board members who did speak to me anonymously after the lab was closed and the December report came to light told me that they would have acted strongly had they seen it and were sorry that they did not.

Some of them felt betrayed by Miller and his real boss, but they maintain that the hospital is getting better and that Revival is the only game in town. Without Revival, they say, the hospital would be closed.

In that editorial, we said that we would rather have no hospital at all than one that cut corners on staff, supplies and patient safety to save a couple of bucks.

Which raises the next question, not only for Miller, but for the New York State Department of Health as well.

From the beginning in September of last year, the state agency has maintained with a wink and a nod, the fiction that Revival is not really running PHC, that the operating board has the control.

The fact that the December lab report was not shared with them should dispel any of that foolish belief.

I have contacted the state agency every week over the past two months, questioning the governance of PHC and asking for comment.

All I get is, “We are studying the question.”

It is illegal for a for-profit such as Revival to own a hospital without state permission and that comes only after a long process, which has not even begun in PHC’s case.

There is a reason for that. When profit is the motive, things often go south, as much in schools as in hospitals.

So, the question both to Miller and the state’s health department.

How can Revival run PHC without state approval?

There are other questions as well.

On March 9, the Federal Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of New York appointed Lori Lapin Jones as a Chapter 11 Trustee for PHC, giving her control of the hospital.

Such a move is not taken lightly, court officials say, and it means there are real problems with the facility.

In fact, a trustee is appointed under the bankruptcy code, “only where there is suspected fraud, dishonesty, incompetence or gross mismanagement of the affairs of the debtor by current management.”

I wonder which of those applies to Revival, Miller and PHC. Certainly, it was gross mismanagement to ignore the December report.

It seems that Revival has been playing a game where it wants to appear not to operate the hospital while it really does have the control.

Revival might be fooling the state’s department of health, but it does not fool the people of Rockaway or those who work for PHC.

Perhaps all apply.

The court says Jones is in charge.

And, she has shown that she is in charge, laying off an additional 100 employees and killing the residents program, forcing 78 medical students to quickly find other placements to complete their education.

What has to be understood is that Jones is not at the hospital to save it for the community.

She is there at the order of the bankruptcy judge to insure that those who are owed money by the hospital get it in a timely manner.

That is why she is saving every penny she can by cutting positions and ending the residency program, something that will make the hospital look bad in the eyes of the medical community.

Miller continues to spin the situation, saying that he is still in charge and that everthing is moving along on schedule.

He told the community board that he and Jones are “working collaboratively” to help the hospital.

If that is true, why has the 30-day time period for fixing the clinical laboratory come and gone?

If that is true, why is the hospital still on diversion?

If that is true, why the 100 additional lay-offs and why kill the critical program for residents?

If that is true, why the secret nightime meetings and handwringing?

The questions posed here have to be answered. Perhaps Jones will get the answers and insure that the hospital continues on.

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