PITTSBURG — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office announced Wednesday it had executed a search warrant in February at Oswego Community Hospital, one of three medical facilities in Labette County to suddenly close their doors just over a week before the warrant was served.
“The attorney general’s office executed a search warrant on February 22 at Oswego Community Hospital,” C.J. Grover, a spokesman for Schmidt’s office, wrote in an emailed response to an inquiry from the Morning Sun. “This is an ongoing investigation and we have no further comment at this time.”
The hospital, along with the shuttered Oswego Community Clinic and Chetopa Community Clinic, had been managed by North Kansas City, Missouri-based EmpowerHMS.
On Tuesday, reports emerged that another Kansas hospital formerly run by the company, Horton Community Hospital in Brown County, had also closed. Several other EmpowerHMS-managed hospitals in multiple states have also closed in recent months.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly released a statement Wednesday that her office was directing state agencies to assist former employees of the Horton hospital, who had been working for weeks without pay.
“I’m concerned for the community of Horton as they face the serious loss of their local hospital,” Kelly said in the statement. “This is becoming a far too frequent occurrence in our state. Local hospitals are key to the health of Kansas families and are often one of the largest employers in a small town. Elected leaders must work together to do more to support our local hospitals.”
Kelly’s office will be working with the state commerce and labor departments to provide assistance for the hospital’s former employees, beginning with informational meetings planned for 1 to 3 p.m. Thursday at the Horton Public Library.
The Topeka Capital-Journal additionally reported that Grover released a statement that the AG’s office is investigating Horton Community Hospital, but would not comment further.
EmpowerHMS no longer lists contact information on its website, but a call to a number formerly associated with the company, which now answers as Rural Community Hospitals of America — an organization with ties to EmpowerHMS CEO and Miami, Florida-based businessman Jorge Perez — was not returned by press time Wednesday.
Tim Lentz, who was mayor of Horton for over a decade, “said Jorge Perez should be locked in jail for the failure to pay employees who continued to show up while Perez offered ‘smoke and mirrors’,” according to the Capital-Journal.
Jessica Mayfield, former lab director for Oswego Community Hospital, said Wednesday that she had heard from other former employees that the keys to the Oswego hospital had been turned over to state investigators, who had been going through the facility’s records.
“Nobody has been able to access their records,” she said.
Mayfield said that while it was still open, the hospital got its lab supplies form several different vendors, and would submit bills for payments to EmpowerHMS’s corporate office, but the company would frequently refuse to pay. Under pressure from employees, bills would sometimes be eventually covered in the past, she said, but the situation began to get worse in early 2018, and by the end of the year the hospital could barely function.
Mayfield, a mother of three, said she has not been able to find comparable work following the hospital’s closure.
“If I want to work nights I can get a full-time job,” she said, “but I can’t do that because I have young kids.”
Most people she worked with at the hospital have likewise been unable to find new jobs, Mayfield added.
“As far as I know everything is out of our hands,” she said, “and the state is investigating now.”