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Source: Secret talks could resolve hospital dispute

Furor is about how Houston County Commissioners are forced to appoint those who oversee Southeast Health.
Published: Jan. 25, 2022 at 10:46 AM CST
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) -Back-channel negotiations in an ongoing dispute with Dothan’s largest employer provide hope that a resolution will be reached before that dispute becomes a nasty Montgomery fight.

“I can tell you there are ongoing discussions among some who hope this matter can be resolved before state lawmakers get involved,” said a person with knowledge, but who spoke to News 4 solely on the condition of anonymity.

The furor is about how Houston County Commissioners are forced to appoint Houston County Healthcare Authority members, a board of directors that oversees Southeast Health and its 3,000 employees.

Current law allows commissioners to pick only from a list recommended by the Authority.

“That’s the fox guarding the hen house,” proclaimed Commissioner Ricky Herring (R-District 3). He refused to appoint the Authority’s choice last year, putting the process into peril.

His balking eventually got state lawmakers involved, and they promised a legislative bill that would change the selection process. However, two weeks into the session the legislature’s website shows no such bill has been filed.

“I have always said the parties need to get together and we need to work it out,” Houston County Chairman Mark Culver said of the dispute on Monday. He stressed he has no knowledge of behind-the-scenes talks.

However, his point is well taken. A settlement may be the best---perhaps the only way---out of this dilemma.

The Alabama House and Senate have already diverted into a special session, taking members away from routine business and potentially holding back proposed legislation.

Now, there is a more serious problem for them to face.

On Monday, federal judges dealt lawmakers a harsh blow, demanding they redraw Congressional boundaries. That could mean another special session, putting even more bills into limbo.

Then, there is the problem of lawmakers wanting to scurry home from session to campaign. All their 140 seats are up for election.

All of this could cause bills to be unceremoniously buried in Goat Hill cemetery.

The Houston County Healthcare Authority has not commented publicly on its dispute with Herring, but no doubt Southeast Health prefers a solution with minimal fanfare.

That is because recent headlines have not been particularly kind to the hospital with reports that it dumped a rape victim assistance program, that is among the nation’s worst in the use of unnecessary medical procedures, and its dispute with Herring who portrays the Authority as big, bad controlling monsters.

Then, there is the county commission where four of its members, like state lawmakers, are involved in campaigns. Herring is one of them.

Chairman Mark Culver, who is not seeking reelection, hopes cooler heads prevail and the Healthcare Authority appointment process will be put to bed quickly and without legislative interference.

“I think it has possibly (dragged) out longer than it should, but when people get set in their position things like this happen,” Culver told News 4.

If the matter winds up in the legislature and lawmakers approve a bill changing the selection process, it must also be okayed in a voter referendum, possibly in November.

Copyright 2022 WTVY. All rights reserved.

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