It came down more to the process than the decision as the Mesquite City Council voted 3-2 to settle its lawsuit with Mesa View Regional Hospital at its May 28 meeting. Council members Annie Black, George Rapson and Sandra Ramaker voted in favor of a settlement agreement while George Gault and Brian Wursten voted no.
At issue was the city’s contention that the hospital breeched a 2002 Development Agreement when it shut down Labor & Delivery services last October. The hospital said the unit was not profitable because not enough babies were being born at Mesa View. The city filed a lawsuit shortly after asking the court to force the hospital to re-open the unit.
During public comment, the MVRH attorney and spokesman [name unavailable], addressed a recently filed complaint with the Nevada Attorney General alleging that three council members, Ramaker, Gault and Black had violated the state open meeting law by negotiating directly and privately as a group with the hospital about the proposed settlement.
The MVRH attorney alleged that the real open meeting law violation occurred in September when the then-council voted in a closed, attorney-client litigation session to file the lawsuit.
The settlement does not require MVRH to re-open the L&D unit. It terminates the Development Agreement completely, allows the mayor to appoint a city council member to serve as a voting member of the hospital’s Board of Trustees, and requires the hospital to provide a semi-annual progress report to the city.
The new agreement also requires the city to drop its support of any state legislation affecting a Certificate of Need that could allow competition to the hospital prior to a population of 25,000. The hospital will not dispute a population census sanctioned by the city if it shows more than 25,000 people.
The hospital will also use reasonable efforts to maintain an infusion center and to add a cardiac rehabilitation clinic. The agreement also does not allow the hospital to object to the licensing of an independent birthing center provided it does not include any surgical services for gynecology or obstetrics.
The center will be required to provide full coverage for all aspects of birthing including a physician, nursing and other ancillary care professional services 24 hours per day, seven days per week, 365 days per year. That makes it extremely difficult to fund a viable birthing center at the rate of births in Mesquite.
City Attorney Bob Sweetin said he “strongly disagreed” that the council violated the open meeting law when it initially decided to file the lawsuit. He said there were “no flaws in how the lawsuit was brought. The city charter allows the city attorney to bring forth any litigation deemed appropriate at any time.”
“I have a hard time with someone coming in and saying we did something wrong [referencing the attorney’s allegation] when the hospital came in and absolutely broke the law,” Wursten said. “They broke the agreement we had with them when they took away Labor & Delivery. This would never have happened if you [the hospital] had lived up to the agreement that you made.”
Wursten added that he didn’t see how the new agreement would benefit the city. He said continued litigation could harm the hospital though. He praised the hospital employees but said that was separate from breaking the contract.
“I’m confused. I was prepared to vote on a settlement agreement,” Gault said. “Now I’m being told I might have done something wrong and acting improperly. I’m inclined to table this thing. This is a matter of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.”
After Ramaker made a motion to accept the settlement and Black seconded it, Gault made a motion to table the item. No second was made to his motion and the settlement agreement passed.