Former Horton mayor Tim Lentz bristled with bitterness Tuesday as he appraised the indifference of state officials, ownership failings and lives placed in jeopardy by the imminent closing of his community's only medical care provider.
Horton Community Hospital for months has struggled with overdue utility bills, supply shortages and weekslong gaps in pay for the hospital's 50 employees.
The hospital is expected to close its doors at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
"We're in trouble today," Lentz said. "We're in trouble right now. Not six weeks from now, not six hours from now. We're in trouble right now. This is happening as we speak. The ambulance has already been diverted to Hiawatha."
Lentz, who was mayor for more than a decade in the small northeast Kansas town, 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."
Perez, whose business empire includes the LLC that owns the Horton hospital and the management firm EmpowerHMS, has been the subject of scrutiny for the financial failings of multiple hospitals and a federal lawsuit alleging an illegal billing scheme.
Lentz predicted the lives of state officials will go on like normal while the Horton community erodes.
"I think it's a crock of (expletive) that our state officials stand around with their hands in their pants and do nothing," Lentz said.
An assistant to hospital CEO Ty Compton said the facility didn't have any information to share as staff from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment arrived to talk to employees.
Gerald Kratochvil, spokesman for KDHE, said the agency was conducting a survey in response to a complaint about "certain things that KDHE would cover under hospital licensure." He said the content and findings of that complaint are confidential.
Management of the hospital was transferred earlier this year from EmpowerHMS to iHealthcare. Several other Kansas hospitals associated with EmpowerHMS have struggled financially, including the Oswego hospital that closed last month.
The Horton hospital is owned by CAH Acquisition Co. #3 LLC, which is affiliated with EmpowerHMS through Perez.
In a recent letter to employees, iHealthcare chief operating officer David Bingaman said all revenue made by the hospital is controlled by its owner. The hospital would be on the road to recovery, Bingaman said, if iHealthcare had taken over management sooner than Feb. 6.
"We know you are suffering, and iHealthcare has dedicated itself to rectifying this untenable situation," Bingaman said.
John Calhoun, the acting city administrator and chief of police for Horton, said the hospital hasn't paid employees since at least Feb. 15. He said the hospital will close by 5 p.m. Tuesday.
"It's not anything that any of us wanted to happen, but we just have to move forward from here," Calhoon said.
The hospital recently made a hand-delivered partial payment on a utility bill that was nearly two months overdue, Calhoon said. A new invoice went out at the start of March, which he expects will go unpaid.
Lentz said he hopes the Hiawatha Community Hospital will open a clinic in Horton. As it is, Horton residents who need medical care will have to travel 12 miles north.
The Horton community has rallied behind hospital employees, donating food and other items, Lentz said.
"These people have shown up tirelessly," Lentz said, "and at the and of the day, all they get is a swift kick in the ass."