City Reporter 

City Reporter

No More Med?

Health-care woes fuel rumors of hospital's closing.

By Janel Davis

Officials of The Med met with Governor Phil Bredesen Wednesday in efforts to keep the county-run public hospital from closing because of the financial pressures of serving indigent patients while state support is being withheld.

Rumors have swirled this week that The Med might be forced to close, but both Shelby County and hospital spokespersons denied them. The expulsion of thousands of people from TennCare rolls has drastically affected the hospital. Within the last six months, care for uninsurable and former TennCare patients has increased from 25 to 32 percent, adding $12 million in expenses to the hospital's already strained budget, said hospital spokesperson Sandy Snell.

Bruce Steinhauer, CEO and president of The Med, met with Bredesen in Nashville Wednesday. Members of the Shelby County legislative delegation and Shelby County mayor A C Wharton have also been meeting with Steinhauer, Bredesen, and state finance commissioner Dave Goetz.

At issue is the survival of The Med and its ability to meet its payroll and pay vendors. The Med has taken on a bigger share of the indigent patient load due to TennCare cuts and the closing of Baptist Memorial Hospital in the Medical Center.

"[The Med] told us they were basically really low on cash," said state Representative Carol Chumney. "It's a really bad situation."

Bredesen has withheld the release of a $12.5 million quarterly payment to the hospital until he is assured that it has a long-term plan for solvency. The Med shapes up as an early test of his campaign promise to use his health-care business expertise to run TennCare more efficiently and balance the state budget without a general tax increase.

While it is nothing new for The Med to face financial problems due to its preponderance of indigent patients, the alarms have been louder this year from both Nashville and the county administration.

"Wharton expressed to us that the situation was critical," said state Representative Barbara Cooper. "The hospital could close any day."

The state made a $6 million payment to The Med last Thursday, from a fund previously held back due to problems with TennCare. Chumney said she was told the hospital had also dipped into a $10 million fund set aside for medical malpractice claims.

Snell said the hospital executive staff met Wednesday to trim $6 million from its budget this year by cutting supplies and equipment, improving revenue collections for outstanding bills, and reducing overtime.

"There has to be a turnaround," said Snell. "There has to be hope because without The Med these indigent and non-insured patients have nowhere else to go."

Pension Problems

City retiree rehiring is discontinued.

By Janel Davis

Memphis Police Department retirees received some bad news last week when a letter signed by police director Walter Crews signaled an end to employment for several department retirees who had been rehired for part-time work.

"[Administrators] haven't told us anything. All they've done is give us these letters," said a department retiree, who asked that his name be withheld. "My supervisor gave me my termination date yesterday. My last day at work will be March 7th."

The employee ended a 24-year career with the department in July 2001 as a captain in the traffic bureau. In addition to his captain duties, his position included work as a traffic instructor at the training academy. Since retirement, he has continued to teach at the academy in a temporary position, with an equivalent salary of $15 an hour.

"I know the city's not saving money with this," he said. "I've taken a drastic cut in pay to keep doing the job that I love. Now they're going to replace me just like that."

According to city attorney Robert Spence, the situation began last September when a retiree was rehired by the Division of Park Services as a golf starter. That came to the attention of the city's human resources department, which in turn questioned the city attorney's office about the legality of his hiring. Spence's office then issued a ruling that the practice of rehiring retirees who are receiving pensions as temporary, part-time employees would have to be discontinued.

"[The city's] pension system is covered by a pension ordinance which says that if those retired persons receiving pension benefits are reemployed, their pensions will be frozen," said Sara Hall, interim director of the city's human resources division. "As temporary or part-time employees, the retirees would not be eligible for health care, would have to purchase care at more expensive rates, and would not be able to get back the care at city employee rates."

Hall admitted that the number of retirees reentering the city employee work force has increased over the past few years but said the change does not affect many. "This is not a money-saving situation for the city; this is more of a legal issue," she said. "The work force as a whole will not be totally affected because the bulk of the city's work is done by full-time employees."

Of the city's 6,638 full-time employees, only 40 are temporary, part-time retired employees.

According to Hall, the issue was discussed in early February with 17 division directors, who were then allowed to notify their retirees as they saw fit. The attorney's office has taken the proactive step of advising division directors of the situation to prevent future cases. Retirees who have already received their termination notice are advised to consult with their supervisor or call the city's benefits office.

"Theoretically, a retiree can still be rehired," said Spence, and Hall agreed. "The ordinance just prevents them from receiving their pension benefits and an employment check from the city."

"I'm sending out resumes for another job right now," said the former traffic captain. "It's not right what they're doing. It's just not right."

Karaoke Killer Update

Joseph Crouch spotted on Gulf Coast.

By Chris Davis

Joseph Crouch, the karaoke enthusiast from Memphis wanted for the 2001 murder of his wife, Betsy, has been spotted. Just as police suspected, he has been seen singing karaoke and playing golf along the Gulf Coast in Mississippi and Louisiana. He has also been gambling in the Gulf Coast casinos. According to Crouch's daughter, Teresa Wampler, police have received 50 tips in the past two weeks, thanks in large part to an article about Crouch that ran in the New Orleans Times-Picayune and two consecutive segments aired on America's Most Wanted.

Most of the reports are of one-time sightings, but Wampler is absolutely certain that many, if not all, of these people saw her father.

"He asked one woman for a date," Wampler said. "He met her in the karaoke club. He told her that he was a big gambler and wanted to know if she would go to the casino with him sometime. But the big thing, the thing that lets me know it was my father, is this: She said the man introduced himself as Leroy. Leroy is my father's middle name." Neither the Times-Picayune story nor America's Most Wanted divulged Crouch's middle name.

According to Wampler, one karaoke deejay has also turned in a convincing description of her father. The man allegedly filled out 15 slips of paper with his name, the name of the song he wanted to perform, and the disc number. Then he told the deejay to hold on to the slips because he would be coming back to sing more in the future.

"He always did this," Wampler said of her father's karaoke habits. "He always liked to sing the same songs, and he didn't want to have to fill out the slips of paper more than once."

"He's keeping all of his habits," Wampler continued. "He's singing karaoke, playing golf, watching sports on TV, and going to casinos and telling people he's a big-shot gambler. Apparently, he doesn't feel any remorse."

One Down, Two To Go

Former student acquitted in one court, faces others.

By Janel Davis

Shaoqiang He is better known by his American name, Jack, and better known for an ongoing custody case in Chancery Court, but last week he faced a criminal court jury on a completely different case.

While attending graduate school at the University of Memphis, He had been accused by a fellow student of sexual battery in October 1998. After almost four years of reset court dates, multiple changes in defense counsel, and eight hours of deliberations, He was finally acquitted of any wrongdoing.

"I think several things led to the jury's not-guilty verdict," said defense attorney James Hodges. "First, that [the alleged victim] walked all the way across campus to a building which had other people in it and yet no one heard her during the alleged incident, that she waited a week to report the incident, and that she brought the wrong pants to court to use during testimony."

He could have faced jail time or been deported had the jury returned a guilty verdict. Hodges and other attorneys had previously encouraged He to accept plea bargains, including administrative diversion, which does not require the defendant to submit a guilty plea, and after court-ordered counseling, the charge is expunged from the defendant's record. He denied all options, choosing instead a jury trial.

Next for He is the remaining custody case involving his 4-year-old daughter Anna Mae, who has been living in foster care with Jerry and Louise Baker since the child was 2 months old. "This [Criminal Court] verdict has a great effect on the custody case because it was being used to deny visitation to Mr. He from seeing his daughter," said Hodges. "It should have never happened like that because he had a clean record and had not been found guilty in this case, but it was being held against him."

Again, He has requested a jury trial to determine the outcome of this case and prove that he and his wife, Casey, are suitable parents. "Jack should get his baby back. I've seen him interact with his other child, and he is a doting father and a hard worker," said Hodges.

Hanging in the balance is an appearance in Immigration Court. The judge in that court agreed to delay his ruling until the matters in the other two cases were resolved.

During the cases, Casey has given birth to another daughter, now 5 months old.

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