According to Ramos’ memo, Nuell represents numerous clients against Jackson, and he speaks to and meets with employees of the business office frequently — even though Mark Knight, the hospital’s chief financial officer, told ethics investigators that he advised Nuell in fall 2011 not to contact the business office staff directly.
Knight declined to comment through a hospital spokesman. But emails between hospital staff and Nuell show that Nuell has contacted Jackson executives regarding private clients numerous times between November 2011 to November 2012.
The ethics complaints, though, stem from two phone calls that Nuell made to Church and Linares in October 2012.
Church described for ethics investigators a call she received from Nuell on Oct. 11. He made the call on behalf of a private client, Church wrote in her complaint, and he spent more than an hour on the phone, much of it screaming at her in a manner that she termed “abuse.”
“He said he is embarrassed to be on the board and is bombarded by complaints about the CBO [corporate business office],’’ Church wrote. “He called me and my staff incompetent many times, shouting that we didn’t follow through and were not doing our jobs.’’
Church said Nuell then demanded a meeting within 10 days. But when Church raised a scheduling conflict — and requested time to speak with Knight, the chief financial officer — she said Nuell called Don Steigman, chief operating officer for Jackson, on a conference line.
In Church’s account, Steigman did not object to Nuell’s request for a meeting.
According to Church: “He told [Steigman] that he had a lot of issues with me and the CBO as he wasn’t getting appropriate answers and responses. He wanted a meeting with me, Norma [Linares] and his assistant. Don asked who else he wanted there.’’
Steigman declined to comment through a hospital spokesman, and it is unclear if the meeting that Nuell requested ever took place. It is also unknown if Jackson settled with the client that Nuell called about in October.
According to Church’s complaint, Nuell had called the business office concerning a 2010 bill with more than $85,000 in charges, and for which the hospital had been paid $6,000 from an auto insurance policy.
Nuell proposed a settlement with Jackson for $5,000, according to the complaints, but the hospital’s business office denied it, and asked for another offer. Nuell never followed up, according to Church and Linares.
Church explained the reasoning behind Jackson’s denial of the initial offer:
“When we see that the Trust is only being offered a small part of the settlement,’’ she wrote, “we always try to see if we can obtain a fair share of the proceeds for the Trust since normally that is where most of the expenses for care for the patient occurs. Mr. Nuell, as a board member, should not be trying to push settlements for his firm for patients who owe the PHT [Public Health Trust] money for their care.’’
According to Church’s complaint, Nuell also called the business office on behalf of a patient who was not his client — violating federal healthcare privacy regulations for hospital patients.
The county’s ethics investigation, however, focused specifically on Nuell’s alleged breach of public trust. And though much of the investigation appears to be complete, the five-member ethics commission has yet to issue a finding because Nuell has twice requested an extension on the hearing.
The case is now scheduled to be heard during a closed session at the ethics commission’s May meeting. Commissioners can choose to dismiss the complaint or issue a finding of probable cause, which could lead to fines, a letter of instruction or a reprimand for Nuell.
Though the ethics commission does not make recommendations for removal, other authorities such as the Board of County Commissioners also can act on the findings.
The two Jackson employees who filed complaints against Nuell indicated this isn’t the first time they’ve seen him act this way.
“This is not the first time that Mr. Nuell displays this type of behavior,’’ Linares wrote in her complaint. She added later that he would “throw his weight around by stating he is a board member.”