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Hospital chief quits, mum on why

Staff writer

St. Luke Hospital chief executive Jeremy Ensey resigned Tuesday evening after three 30-minute executive sessions that followed an open session in which Lanning Pharmacy demanded an independent audit of a federal program that allows prescription drugs to be purchased at as much as half their normal cost.

Ensey’s resignation came the same day as the Hillsboro Free Press printed an article he submitted in which he expressed frustration about a story in last week’s Marion County Record regarding St. Luke opening its own pharmacy.

“His efforts to clear up the inaccuracies have been ignored by the Record,” the Free Press wrote, even though Ensey ignored requests for interviews and never attempted to contact any newspaper staff member.

He also declined to comment after the meeting in which he resigned — the public portion of which was packed, with several members of the audience standing in the back.

Despite a request for an interview last week, Ensey made no effort to talk to the Record at that time or after it reported former board member Gene Winkler’s comments that the hospital was trying to open its own pharmacy.

Winkler has since walked back those comments, saying they were only rumors.

While Ensey would not comment Tuesday night, his wife, Tammy Ensey, texted a comment to a reporter with the proviso that it be used in its entirety.

“While the timing of Jeremy’s resignation doesn’t seem ideal, I want to assure you that his resignation is completely unrelated to the recent activity reported in your paper,” she wrote. “We have been praying about this for some time and have felt God leading Jeremy in another direction. We believe that faith without action is not faith at all.

“Jeremy has sincerely enjoyed his time at St. Luke and serving alongside the board and his team. Together they have accomplished so much over the past decade.”

The meeting Tuesday kicked off with comments by Lanning Pharmacy co-owner Traci Lanning, who was critical of Ensey’s lack of communication and pressed for an independent audit of the hospital’s 340b program, allowing for discounted purchases of drugs for sale to the public by the pharmacy.

St. Luke, as a nonprofit, critical access hospital, is part of a federal program, called 340b, that allows qualifying hospitals and clinics to purchase prescription drugs at prices reduced as much as 50%.

Lanning’s voice was shaking at the beginning of her comments. She thanked the board for allowing her to be on its agenda, something that Winkler earlier had said Jeremy Ensey had rejected.

“We want the hospital board to know that Lanning Pharmacy appreciates the opportunity to be a part of the 340b program,” she said. “When the program is managed correctly, it is beneficial to our business, and in the past six weeks, we have realized how important it is to those in our community who lack insurance coverage.

“It has been our goal in the past to work together with the hospital to make the program a success to all parties. However, over the last couple of years, we feel that the hospital has taken advantage of the program and manipulated certain aspects of it to their advantage.

“When we have questioned these actions, we have been met with hostility or a complete lack of communication.”

Lanning told board members that the pharmacy had questions and concerns about November and December invoices.

“Due to past experience, we told the CEO we were not going to pay these invoices until our questions and concerns were addressed,” she said. “We received no response back from the CEO, but we did receive a demand letter from St. Luke’s attorney and were put on notice that the hospital board was to have no contact with us or any representative of our business.

“We have no idea why the CEO would go to such lengths as to hire an attorney using taxpayer dollars when all we had asked for was an explanation about certain invoices and qualified prescriptions.”

Lanning said the pharmacy paid St. Luke on April 3, including interest.

Even though it paid St. Luke, she said: “We still believe the hospital owes our pharmacy money. We are aware that the hospital completed an HRSA (Health Resources and Services Administration) audit this fall, but we feel the information we are concerned about was not addressed in that audit because of the date it occurred.”

She then asked for an independent audit, noting that St. Luke had denied it was planning to open a pharmacy and that there were any problems with invoicing.

“We are willing to pay for this audit up front, and if the findings show that we are wrong, we will apologize and move on. However, if the audit findings show that we are correct, we would ask the hospital to pay for the audit and reimburse us the interest that we paid on April 3.”

She also requested that Ensey and AuthorityRx respond to questions the pharmacy submitted to St. Luke’s attorney.

“We have had no response or even an acknowledgment that this letter was presented to board members,” she said. “And lastly, we would like the CEO to be directed to recognize and communicate with a 340b consultant of our choosing to represent our pharmacy.

“We do not want to hire a consultant and then have the CEO refuse to communicate or cooperate with said consultant as has happened twice in the past.”

Lanning Pharmacy, she said, was hopeful that communication and trust could be restored between it and the hospital. She asked the board to approve an independent audit Tuesday night.

Board president John Wheeler said the board could not make that promise Tuesday.

“I think we need a little more time,” he said, noting that neither the hospital’s attorney nor its 340b consultant was able to attend the meeting.

There were murmurs from the crowd at that point. An attorney from Foulston Siefken, a Wichita firm that represents the hospital, actually was present at the meeting. However, Wheeler later said that she was not the hospital’s regular attorney.

“Do you have a time frame that we will have communication?” Lanning asked.

Wheeler asked when she wanted that to happen.

“Today,” Lanning said. “I mean, I’ve waited three months.”

Winkler, who earlier told Record reporter Phyllis Zorn that Ensey had told the board last month about St. Luke’s plans to open a pharmacy, denied saying such. Another board member backed up his denial.

“He did not say that, and I did not hear that,” Winkler said.

“I told Phyllis it was something to keep in the back of your mind,” Winkler told another reporter Tuesday.

Winkler handed out copies of Lanning’s comments to attendees of the board meeting.

Winkler claimed Tuesday that he didn’t know Zorn had been writing a story, even though she recalls telling him that she was. The initial contact between them was over his resignation from the board — a resignation he later unsuccessfully sought to rescind.

“I was told by the chairman of the board that I was no longer on the board,” Winkler said, referring to Wheeler.

The board unanimously swore in Sheriff Jeff Soyez as Winkler’s replacement Tuesday.

Soyez said after the meeting that Ensey had resigned on his own.

Wheeler declined to comment further about Ensey’s resignation, which he said would take effect in 90 days. Wheeler said he needed more time to think about the issues involved.

“It was a lot,” he said of Tuesday’s meeting.

Board member Roger Hannaford also declined to comment at this time but said he was surprised.

Last modified April 26, 2023

 

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