Photo by Emma Gadeski

The St. Vincent Family Health Center building at 735 U.S. 24 South will move to the old hospital on or around Sept. 1 in an effort to eliminate rent costs during financial turnaround. Dr. Lisa Zwerdlinger, who owns the building, said rent from the hospital was late for a period of time. 

The St. Vincent Family Health Center (SVFHC) will relocate to the old hospital at 822 W. Fourth St. this September to cut rent costs and further financial turnaround efforts.   

To operate the practice at 735 U.S. 24 South, the hospital pays approximately $18,000 a month to Dr. Lisa Zwerdlinger, who still owns the building where Rocky Mountain Family Practice (RMFP) operated before merging with St. Vincent Health (SVH) in June of 2021. 

Now that most of SVH’s services are in the new hospital which opened in September 2021, the old hospital provides ample space to absorb SVFHC while continuing to operate specialty clinics as well, according to SVH Marketing Director Karen Onderdonk. 

Onderdonk added that the move should yield higher annual reimbursements on Medicare and Medicaid cost reports since the old hospital will be used for clinic space. The hospital using its own space for patient care can also allow for building allocation reimbursements.

Having SVFHC right next to the new hospital building will also move patients closer to ancillary services such as the lab and x-ray machine.

In 2015, the old hospital was deemed not suitable for inpatient care due to concerns about the HVAC system and updated regulations for patient room standards, said Onderdonk, which prompted plans to construct a new building. 

The hospital previously used space heaters to make up for a lack of heat delivery throughout the building, but these were removed when the fire marshal notified the hospital this wasn’t in compliance.

Thanks to repairs on the HVAC and boiler systems SVH made over the years, Onderdonk said the building is now suitable for outpatient care or visits where patients won’t be staying the night.

The boilers, which used to break down almost daily, will continue to undergo repairs as needed, Onderdonk added. “The system is old. It will always need upkeep.”

SVFHC exam rooms will be moved to the building’s special clinic area, said Onderdonk. The building is currently home to specialty clinics, physical therapy, occupational therapy and some business and administrative offices. 

Around 10 years ago, the hospital took over operations of the Leadville Medical Clinic located at 825 W. Sixth St., the building where Lake County Build a Generation and public health offices currently operate. 

In 2019, the hospital moved the clinic to the old hospital and began renting the clinic space to the Lake County Public Health Agency before moving to its current location along U.S. 24 following the merger with RMFP. 

Since merging, SVH paid rent to Zwerdlinger to use the space, although she has since left SVH and opened a new direct patient care practice last fall, which has an office next door. 

Zwerdlinger still owns the SVFHC building but doesn’t plan to operate there again, meaning it will be back on the market.

Starting last year the hospital began struggling to make the rent payments for the space, according to Zwerdlinger, who recalls Interim CEO John Gardner and Board Chair Francine Webber approaching her in late summer or early fall saying they couldn’t afford the rent and asking what she could do. 

In response, Zwerdlinger said she started paying the property tax to take some of the load off. 

Last month, however, Zwerdlinger said Gardner told her they just couldn’t afford it anymore and would to relocate this fall. 

Although the contract between Zwerdlinger and SVH gives the hospital 10 days to vacate the space, Zwerdlinger is allowing six months. 

Rent payments have been on time lately but were late for about year, sometimes as much as two months, said Zwerdlinger. 

Zwerdlinger said SVH currently uses medical equipment for eight exam rooms like blood pressure cuffs she gifted them from RMFP, with her moving the ninth to her new practice. “They got a screaming deal,” she said. 

Various groups have already expressed interest in the building, including local nonprofits and private investment groups. “I would love to keep it local,” said Zwerdlinger. “It’s a valuable commodity.” 

Onderdonk said SVH is grateful Zwerdlinger rented out the space and looks forward to continuing work with her as she remains a hospitalist with the district. 

Details released on former leadership

Alan Scroggins, SVH’s previous interim CFO terminated by Gardner in August, is connected to audit reporting issues and noncompliance with the USDA’s $21.8 million loan for the new hospital. 

An Aug. 24 letter from the district’s legal counsel, David Greher, to Health Tech Management Services, the company that placed Scroggins as a contract employee with the hospital, details reasons for his termination largely related to a failure to adequately perform his duties. The Herald received the letter through a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request. 

The letter includes email receipts from Aug. 13 in which Gardner asks  Scroggins whether he’d prepared quarterly reports required to receive  USDA funds, to which Scroggins responded that he was unaware of the district’s obligation to provide quarterly reports in April and July 2022 to the USDA. 

Additionally, Greher wrote that Scroggins signed and filed an extension of audit form with the state auditor on Aug. 1, which was a day late and missing a required signature of a board member. SVH ended up correcting the extension and received the results early this year. 

The Herald also received more details on former CEO Antczak’s departure from the hospital through a CORA request of the employee separation agreement. 

Although the agreement does not provide reasons for his resignation, it stated that Antczak was paid his regular semi-monthly salary for four months after his August 24 resignation, overlapping with the pre-Christmas payroll crisis. 

These former hospital executives, although no longer employed, are referenced in a lawsuit filed by a former employee, Lynn Champagne-Fee against the hospital district and Board of Directors. 

Law firm Robinson & Henry, P.C. filed the suit on Feb. 1 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, alleging age and sex discrimination as well as retaliation surrounding her termination. 

The lawsuit alleges that District Patient Access Manager Annette Mascarenaz directed Champagne-Fee to cover lunches at the new hospital’s front desk on Fridays, which was approved by then-District Chief Workforce Office (CWO) Pete Reid, for which the plaintiff asked to adjust her schedule since the lunch shifts would push her over 40-hours per week. 

On or around March 16, Scroggins responded to the plaintiff’s request about changing her schedule via email saying “I need you to understand that the needs of St. Vincent are fluid and constantly changing. I need to know if you are on board with us as team player. This means that your hours may change and that we will need you to be flexible to accommodate our changes in scheduling. If there is a problem, let’s discuss immediately.” 

After Champagne-Fee again brought up her concerns with working over 40 hours a week, Scroggins allegedly stated during a March 16 meeting “Bottom line is we need you to be flexible to the changes that are happening in the hospital. If you can’t, then there are no hard feelings, but you can move on.” 

Scroggins later stated, according to court documents, “We need everyone to be a team player. I’d understand if you were young and had kids and couldn’t do it.” 

Following this meeting, Champagne-Fee sent a text message to Reid saying she would be filing a formal complaint against Scroggins and Mascarenaz for age discrimination and hostile work environment.

 The next day, the lawsuit alleges Reid met with the plaintiff and notified her of her termination effective immediately without offering an explanation. 

On April 8, 2022, court documents say Champagne-Fee filed a Charge of Discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commision (EEOC)  naming the hospital district as the respondent and alleging age and sex discrimination. 

After this, the hospital responded to the EEOC through Antczak, who allegedly justified the termination by rasing false, discriminatory, retaliatory and/or pretextual justifications.” 

Antczak allegedly claimed to the EEOC that the termination was based on the plaintiff’s refusal to work the hours needed and requested by SVH and her “at minimum borderline insubordination when she asked to discuss her work schedule” and that “it was determined that Plaintiff was not a good fit.”

CEO Antczak further claimed to the EEOC that Champagne-Fee became hostile toward Scroggins  during the March 16 meeting by raising her voice and adopting aggressive body language, including pointing at him, according to the lawsuit. 

Court documents allege that the board “aided and/or attempted to aid, abet, compel, coerce and incite” the unlawful conduct and harm Champagne-Fee was subjected to in her district employment.

Hospital officials have declined to comment on the reasons for Antczak’s resignation, but the lawsuit does suggest one. 

Based on information and belief , court documents claim that Antczak may have resigned after and under a threat of termination by the Board in connection with the Plaintiff’s claims. 

Court documents also suggest the board may have terminated Scroggins for the same reasons on Aug. 24, the same date as Anctzak’s resignation. 

Scroggin’s termination letter, however, did not mention the discrimination claims. 

Champagne-Fee is requesting a jury trial. The next court date is a scheduling conference set for April 4, but Robinson & Henry attorney Victoria Edwards said that will likely be rescheduled. 

Onderdonk said the board had not received notice about the lawsuit and will likely review it in executive session next week.  

BOCC work session

Hospital officials met with the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) to share 2022 financial statements presented at last month’s board meeting and discuss updates on financial turnaround. 

Board Chair Francine Webber, Gardner and Interim CFO Kelly Johnston were among those in attendance, along with Cypress Healthcare owner Tony Pfaff. Cypress is the management company recently hired by SVH. 

The discussion covered key loss numbers from the 2022 financials, a site visit by T.R.C. Partnership Services, the hospital’s revenue cycle consultants, and progress on attaining accounts receivable funds, some of which are delayed due to complications with Bright Health pulling out of the state.

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