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New Fulton hospital owner faces questions

The new owner of the Fulton Medical Center already faces questions about legal and financial issues in other hospitals with which he’s been involved. (File)

The new owner of the Fulton Medical Center already faces questions about legal and financial issues in other hospitals with which he’s been involved.

Florida businessman Jorge Perez told a Fulton Town Hall on Tuesday that he’s been saving rural hospitals for decades. When asked his secret for succeeding without the federal Medicaid subsidies available prior to Obamacare and without the Medicaid expansion intended to replace them, he referred to something he called his “secret sauce.”

“We want to be at the cutting edge,” Perez said. “We want to bring all these services that are non-traditional. We like to think outside the box.”

The State of Florida lists Jorge Perez as an officer in Hospital Partners, LLC—a business contracted to run the Putnam County Memorial Hospital in Unionville, Missouri.

State Auditor Nicole Galloway said the CEO there used the hospital as a shell organization to channel $90 million worth of insurance payments to another lab company.

“The bottom line is that this questionable activity puts the hospital at risk,” Galloway said. “When the hospital is at risk, that means patients who need access to healthcare may not be able to get it.”

The Putnam Hospital’s formal response blasted the audit as a “gross mischaracterization” of a standard practice in helping small hospitals to survive.

The Callaway Chamber of Commerce only learned about the sale of medical center late Friday, according to Economic Development Director Bruce Hackmann. After the sale, the Chamber almost immediately began to get questions about the new company’s history.

Hackmann notes there is no public money involved, nor any public control over the sale. While clearly troubled by the history, he said he and local leaders intend to rely on the Callaway County people who will drive the hospital to guarantee its survival.

“Yes, we found a lifeline,” he said. “And we don’t wanna be in that position again.”

Fulton Medical Center had been scheduled to close Sept. 22, before Perez’ company Empower HMS stepped in.

The Putnam County Prosecutor’s Office is investigating what went on at that hospital but has not filed any criminal charges.

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