Hospital blames paperwork mix-up for failure to pay employees


The Tri-County Hospital in Williston serves the counties of Levy, Dixie and Gilchrist.

Anne Geggis/Staff
Published: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 9:38 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 9:38 p.m.

WILLISTON — For the past three months, the U.S. Department of Labor has been investigating a Williston hospital's failure to pay its employees, and at least one employee quit recently when she wasn't paid.

Jerry Gillman, the chief executive officer of the Tri-County Hospital, acknowledged being three pay periods behind on compensating workers at the 40-bed, for-profit hospital. But he blamed it on a holdup in payments from payers that account for two-thirds of his hospital's revenues — Medicaid and Medicare.

"When there's no money coming in, what are you going to do?" he said.

He acknowledged, however, that the hospital's billing department had failed to file claims promptly and not processed all the needed paperwork to get reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid.

He said the problems in the billing department stopped payment from the state and federal payers starting in November up until Jan. 5.

But a spokeswoman from the state Agency for Health Care Administration, which administers Medicaid, the state's insurance for low-income Floridians, said that Gillman's account is not correct.

Tri-County Hospital's status as a Medicaid provider was put on pending status on Nov. 1, but reimbursements started flowing again on Nov. 16, said Shelisha Coleman, AHCA spokeswoman.

Gillman said he doesn't believe that the AHCA spokeswoman has up-to-date information about the situation.

Sitting below the stuffed heads of big game he has hunted on different continents, Gillman, who took over the hospital's management in 2010, acknowledged that there has been high turnover in staff at the hospital, but he says he believes the hospital's fortunes will improve when a billing company off-site takes over that function next month.

"We are solvent — absolutely," he said. "We are developing a plan to get back."

The hospital had been called Nature Coast Hospital until Gillman took it over in 2010. It serves the counties of Levy, Gilchrist and Dixie and a part of Alachua, he said.

Gillman said 600 patients use the emergency room every month and nine patients were hospitalized there Tuesday.

Dr. Richard Alan Martin, who works in the hospital's emergency room, estimated that the hospital owes him $200,000 for services rendered there since September, but he said he's confident that things are going to turn around now that the hospital has cleared up its paperwork problems with the state and federal government.

"The administration is doing a great job handling the turnover — when the pharmacist quit, he had a new one in here the next day," Martin said.

A spokeswoman for Medicare couldn't address the hospital's status with Medicare on Monday or Tuesday.

None of the four doctors listed with Gillman under the heading "Our dedicated staff," on the hospital's website, list the hospital as their primary place of practice with the state Health Department and one of them is no longer practicing in Florida.

Lydia Winterberg, a licensed mental health counselor, said her experience at the hospital makes her concerned about whether the facility should be open.

Responding to an opening posted on Employ Florida, Winterberg was hired at the hospital and started work Jan. 2. She said she was supposed to get paid Jan. 13. She quit when she didn't receive a paycheck on Jan. 13.

"I have obligations I have to meet," she said. "They wanted me to work for free."

She said other issues contributed to her decision to quit. A transport van that picked up her clients for a geriatric therapy program went to get gas while she worked there, but couldn't get any because the hospital's account with the station had been canceled. She said Gillman presented his own debit card to fill the van's tank.

"The next time he was in court that day and all they could do was give me $30 out of the petty cash for the gas," she said.

Winterberg said she was hired at $60,000 a year and knows that Medicare was billed on her license for services she provided. Monday, she drove from her home in Dunnellon to the hospital to see if her check had materialized, but no member of the administration would come out to talk to her.

Gillman acknowledged the financial difficulties at the hospital but said that the hospital must survive.

"Without it, people will die," he said.

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