Since late October, with the announcement that certain services may be cut without additional funding, the Regional Medical Center at Memphis, The MED, has been at the center of a conversation about ensuring the public’s access to critical services, management issues, and more than anything else, money. The $32 million shortfall that currently threatens The MED led to newly appointed Interim Mayor Joe Ford to establish a task force focusing on saving The MED.
Ritz has not been shy in criticizing the state government on their funding of uncompensated care for The MED. In fact, Ritz has been front and center, leading the charge for full compensation to the MED for all care provided that falls into that category.
In a push that began with his letter to area legislators back in late January, cresendoed with an amendment to a Resolution in the Shelby County Commission asking for full funding from the State, and ultimately culminated in his civil rights complaint against the State of Tennessee over its distribution of federal health care dollars, Ritz’s tactics have raised some eyebrows in local and state government.
Shelby County Commissioner Deidre Malone worried that the claim, which Ritz filed as an individual rather than in an official capacity, might “throw a wrench” into current negotiations. M.D. “Dave” Goetz Jr., of the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration, said the claim had “changed the city’s ability to negotiate.”, statements which Interim Shelby County Mayor Joe Ford reportedly said, “piss me off”.
While Ritz’s actions may have raised some eyebrows, it’s refreshing to see someone in government take the ball and run with it. I emailed Commissioner Ritz some questions about his rationale for filing the complaint. What follows after the jump are his unedited responses.
You serve on the MED Task force, as well as the Shelby County Commission. The Task Force, which was established in early December, is charged with working to find solutions to the current financial crisis facing The MED. What information, event, or combination of the two led you to file this complaint with DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services)?
Ritz: When the MED Board brought the County Commission the 5 year fiscal projections and their ‘white paper” in November, I began to ask the MED, via email, some questions of how the state funds are allocated to the MED. One thing led to another. The day after Mayor Ford was sworn in, I had lunch with him and asked him to appoint me to the MED Task Force because I thought the information I had gathered could help us negotiate with the State. The Mayor asked me to go with him to Nashville on JAN. 27 to meet with the State officials and help him make our presentation to the Shelby Delegation at lunch that day. I had begun to draft my complaint before we went to Nashville. In fact some of my questions that day of certain State officials helped me to fill in some data holes in my draft!
In filing your complaint with DHHS, some members of Shelby County Government expressed concerns about the expected outcome and the potential backlash against the MED. M.D. Goetz Jr., who heads the TN Dept. of Finance and Administration indicated that the complaint “changed the city’s ability to negotiate” even though you filed the complaint as an individual rather than a representative of a legislative body or Task Force. In your view, how has this complaint “changed the city’s ability to negotiate” if any?
Ritz: It has only helped us. As long as we continued to do what we always have done, how could we expect any change in the State’s position? I had concluded that the vested interests of the 92 counties without public hospitals like our MED, Nashville Metro and Chattanooga Erlanger were never going to allow the State, without a serious shove, to return to the MED what we deserve. I am disappointed in the lack of support from some of the Commissioners, but I am not surprised. The overall political, faith based and business support has been outstanding.
You indicated that you waited to receive confirmation from DHHS on
the receipt of the complaint before making the complaint public. What is the process for hearing such a complaint and how much time will it take DHHS to make a ruling?
Ritz: The DHHS complaint process could take months for DHHS to report on the investigation. However the State, Commissioner Goetz’s comments not withstanding, knows it now must deal in good faith because Uncle Sam/DHHS is now watching with civil rights glasses on!
Assuming that DHHS sides with the substance of your complaint,
what remedy do they have at their immediate disposal? Or put another way, is the discretion given the Governor by DHHS a matter of law or the policy of the Department?
Ritz: DHHS policies allow the DHHS Secretary to negotiate state waivers like our Tenncare waiver. All it takes at the DHHS level is someone to start asking the questions from their end that we are asking from our end.
Clearly Commissioner Ritz is a man on a mission, and that mission is ensuring the MED gets all it’s due for the health and welfare of Memphis and the region the MED serves. Whether he’ll be successful in that mission remains to be seen. We’ll continue following this story as it develops.
Ritz Questions Governor’s MED-Funding Power – MDN – 1/21/10
Temporary MED Fix Just That: Temporary – MDN – 1/27/10
Ritz Claims State MED Funding Discriminatory – MDN – 2/12/10
Ritz’s Civil Rights Complaint Over Hospital Funding Irks Some Officials – MDN – 2/12/10
Commissioner Ritz’s Civil Rights Complaint: A ‘Hail Mary’ for the Med, or a Bomb? – Memphis Flyer – 2/14/10