Nonprofit leader wants special grand jury to look into closure of Arkansas hospital


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LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — A nonprofit's president wants a special grand jury called to determine if any crimes took place in connection with the closure of an Arkansas hospital.

Last month, Crittenden Regional Hospital in West Memphis closed after CEO Gene Cashman said it couldn't pay more than $30 million in debt. Employees have filed two lawsuits have been against the facility, claiming administrators withheld money from their paychecks for insurance but didn't pay their premiums this year.

Hubert W. Bass, head of the private Crittenden County Justice Commission, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette ( ) that the lawsuits mention criminal activity, including fraud and misappropriation of funds, but no criminal investigation is ongoing. He said he's asked a judge to impanel a grand jury to look into the matter.

"This isn't a witch hunt," Bass said. "We just want to know the facts. We will go where the facts take us. If there is criminal wrongdoing, we'll get some closure. If not, we can put our trust back into the community."

A message seeking comment was left with the hospital's attorney.

Crittenden County officials put an injunction on the collection of a 1 percent sales tax voters passed in July that would have raised about $6 million a year to help the hospital. Cashman said in a letter to the facility's 400 employees that the tax wouldn't have been enough to cover its debt.

Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington said he's not been contacted by Bass or 2nd Judicial District Circuit Judge Victor Hill.

"I am aware of the civil lawsuits ongoing in Crittenden County and have communicated with interested parties in one of the lawsuits," he said. "I have spoken with an investigator with the U.S. Department of Labor and know there is an ongoing investigation into this matter."

Bass said he hopes to hear from Hill by the end of the week if he will impanel a grand jury and that he's also talked with the U.S. attorney's office and officials with the Justice Department.

County Judge Woody Wheeless said he planned to meet with potential hospital buyers but declined to say who they were.

"This left a bad taste in the mouths of everyone," he said. "It will be hard to have trust in anyone else. We have to work to change that perception."

Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette,

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