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Nashville General Hospital considers controversial contract while struggling to pay bills on time

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Posted at 1:50 PM, Mar 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-05 19:56:47-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Nashville General Hospital has fallen behind on some basic bills.

The safety net hospital paid more than $500,000 to cover its utility bills this week, after NewsChannel 5 Investigates obtained emails showing it was six months behind paying its landlord, Meharry Medical College.

Despite paying the utility bill, the hospital is still five months behind on its parking bill and owes Meharry more than $326,000.

Meharry President and CEO James Hildreth sent an email on February 25 to Nashville General's Chief Executive Officer Joseph Webb stating, "I hereby request that these overdue payments be made as soon as possible in accordance with contractual obligations."

Nashville General's Chief Financial Officer responded, "We are diligently working to address our payables with our partners and vendors. Access to our subsidy was very limited until January, and we are trying to be fair with all our vendors."

Last year the Metro Council approved voted to give the hospital $43 million in order to keep it afloat.

Nashville General plans to ask taxpayers for more than $49 million in the upcoming budget year.

Conservative leaning Councilman-At-Large Steve Glover said the hospital needs to stay open.

"I was the guy who fought to keep them open and alive over there, because they do serve a big purpose in our community," Glover said.

But he was surprised to learn the hospital was behind on its bills.

"For you as a reporter to call me, as a Metro councilman, and I'm not aware of it (being behind on bills), that is disturbing," Glover said.

But Glover was even more disturbed when we told him about two proposed contracts on the agenda of the Hospital Authority's last Finance Committee Meeting.

The contracts involve a public relations firm in which former Metro councilman Jerry Maynard is managing partner.

They pay the firm $30,000 a month for two and a half years for a total of $900,000.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates attended the virtual Finance Committee meeting last week, but the committee chair did not bring up the contracts saying they ran out of time.

This is not the first time a contract involving Maynard has come into question.

In 2018, the Tennessean reported a board chair resigned after she claimed Maynard was given a secretive contract for $150,000 to do similar work.

Some on the board disputed her claim.

We obtained the most recent proposed contracts for Community Health Marketing where Maynard is managing partner.

One contract would pay $20,000 a month for public relations work.

The other would pay $10,000 a month for government relations or lobbying.

"We're paying to lobby ourselves, that's kind of stupid," Glover said.

Glover said it appeared the hospital wants to pay Maynard to lobby the Metro Council for a higher appropriation in the next budget.

Jerry Maynard said on the phone the contracts extend work he is already doing, and it is not unusual for agencies that get money from Metro to hire lobbyists to lobby the Metro Council.

A spokesperson for Metro General said the contracts will save the hospital money, because Community Health Marketing, will take over more state and federal lobbying that used to be done in house.

But Glover was concerned about the cost.

"I think Metro General Hospital would be far better utilizing that money at Metro General Hospital," Glover said.

The hospital has seen costs go up during COVID, but said patient revenues are increasing in part because of the public relations work Maynard's firm has done.

But if the Metro Council provides the hospital with the full $49 million supplement it is requesting, it will get slightly more from taxpayers next year than it expects to bring in from patient care.

Glover said if the hospital approves the $900,000 contracts, he would vote to take that amount out of whatever appropriation Metro provides.

"If they give that $900,000 away like that, I will fight to take it out of their supplement. The taxpayers can't afford this crap," Glover said.

Maynard said his firm has done great work for the hospital and he's more qualified than anyone to help Nashville General Hospital.

The hospital emphasized anything it gets from Metro only covers patient care.

As for the overdue bills, the spokesperson said the hospital is cash poor due to COVID, and is paying bills as quickly as it can.