Our beloved Cedar County Memorial Hospital (CCMH) is in grave danger under the leadership of its current CEO, Mr. Terry Nichols.  Some of the current Board members are ignoring serious warnings from at least two separate CEOs who took over for Mr. Nichols before he came to CCMH that he has “no business being in healthcare.”  Those same two CEOs have signed statements that were recently given to the CCMH Board.  In those statements, they both confirmed that “Mr. Nichols has a failed track record at the various Critical Access Hospitals he has run.  There appears to be a pattern of poor leadership where he runs the facility into the ground and exits just prior to them imploding or, at best, leaves them with little chance of a future successful turnaround.”

The Cedar County Memorial Hospital (CCMH) is terribly important to our community.  For those reasons, I write this letter to rebut the letter from Mr. David Bozarth that was published in this paper just last week.  I encourage you all to ask the Board members to discuss the contents of the letters they now have from a multitude of people, including the aforementioned CEOs, about Mr. Nichols’ destructive actions and mistreatment of others at CCMH and elsewhere.  Instead of taking my word or the word of any of the current Board members, read and discuss those letters for yourselves.  You will be very enlightened.

Mr. Bozarth’s recent letter to the editor, I first point out that his response was NOT from the entire Board of Trustees of CCMH. My husband, who is on that Board, was not even contacted at all about before Mr. Bozarth’s letter to the editor before it was printed in the Sun newspaper. Apparently, Mr. Bozarth took it upon himself to decide what the Board’s response to my letter would be.

I do not engage in speculation or conjecture or hearsay about what is happening at CCMH. I am instead relying on the statements from others who have first-hand knowledge about Mr. Nichols’ and how he operates in this hospital and the others he ran into the ground.  I have no desire to expose myself and our business to vile, hateful comments on Facebook, or to damage this community or my relationships with anyone. But I feel much too passionate and concerned about this issue that is so vitally important for this county and community to just sit back. It would be much easier and kinder to myself and my family to just ignore what is going on and let it implode, but I can’t stand by and watch PEOPLE being destroyed. It’s the injustice of the acts being committed by Mr. Nichols that I cannot and will not ignore.

When I started down this path of investigation into Mr. Nichols back in February, I went to his own LinkedIn page and followed his employment record and followed his path of destruction. Throughout the years, he has aligned himself with a bunch of questionable characters in rural healthcare management companies. Some of these people are now in prison. Some have been indicted in lab schemes and have filed bankruptcies and some of his cronies are still now trying to destroy other rural hospitals in this state.  I and several others, have had many calls and conversations from people across this state, including Doctors in other hospitals, warning us about Mr. Nichols and his destructive activities at other hospitals and even as a County Commissioner in Iron County, MO. CCMH is a wonderful asset to our county, both in terms of providing local healthcare and as the second largest employer in the county. I have witnessed first-hand, doctors and staff at CCMH who were kind, considerate, and attentive. But over a short period of time, many good doctors, nurses, and staff have been fired or were otherwise pushed out for no valid reason or because of our current CEO, Terry Nichols. Many people have reached out to me and have said they were treated so poorly by Mr. Nichols that they suffer from PTSD like symptoms and were forced to go on anti-anxiety medicine for the first time ever. Mr. Nichols goes around the hospital spreading lies about employees, so that when he wants to fire someone, he has set it up so other employees believe the person did something illegal or improper. Employees at CCMH are afraid to question Mr. Nichols authority for fear that they might be his next victim, in fact, and I quote Mr. Nichols, “It is my design, to instill fear in employees, so they will not question me.”

I know it is easy to ignore what is happening at CCMH, especially if it doesn’t directly affect you. But put yourselves into the shoes of those who have been, or will be, negatively impacted by what is going on at CCMH.   And think about what might happen if you or a loved one need emergency services but no longer have a local hospital you can visit.

Each person who signed the statements I referenced above do so by stating they are true and correct. Instead of showing interest in what each of those statement signers had to say or what the public has to say, at least 3 board members are actively putting their heads in the sand and doing their best to shut down and ignore public comment.  I urge you to listen to the audio of the Board meeting from September 20, 2023.  Again, do not just take my word or the word of others.  Listen for yourselves and see how the Board is treating members of the public who want to speak.

Any member of the public, under the Sunshine Law, can call and request financial records, board minutes, Medicare and Medicaid reports, audit reports, payroll, etc. Yet my husband, Harold Fugate, who himself was appointed to be a Board member by our County Commissioners, has not been allowed to have any of the documents he has repeatedly asked for. If anyone knows my husband, he is not a “YES” man and will ask questions until he hears the truth. Harold asked to see Mr. Nichols’ contract and was told NO by Mr. Nichols. Mr. Nichols said, “you are not allowed to see my contract.” But that is public record!  CCMH is funded in part by all of our taxpayer dollars! Ask yourself, what are the Board members and Mr. Nichols hiding? In spite of losing money year to date, some of the Board members recently gave  Mr. Nichols a considerable salary increase. Mr. Bozarth now touts the greatness of Mr. Nichols and how he is generating so much revenue, but what he is either willfully ignoring or simply not understanding is that, the operating costs have risen more dramatically than the revenues. The CCMH cash position has diminished a great deal since mid-2022 when Mr. Nichols arrived. Again, do not just take my word for it.  You can look at CCMH’s official audit done by an outside accounting firm, Clifton, Larson and Allen. As of January 31st, 2022, the hospital had a total cash of $9,922,645. In an audit report dated January 31st, 2023 we had total cash of $6,278,891. That is a $3,642,754 loss of cash IN ONLY ONE YEAR. That is a 36.7% decline in one year. According to that same report, the operating LOSS is $2,154,912. When the financials show a loss every month except one since Mr. Nichols arrived, it is clear that the hospital is in trouble financially. It is equally clear that the financial picture is nothing like what is being touted by Mr. Bozarth. CCMH has less family doctors, more employees, less patients, and yet more, specialists that are being paid exorbitant fees. The numbers do not add up. I’ve heard this said many times from an administrator of a Cedar County Facebook page that, the problem is not about money, it’s about management.” Actually, the problem is about money AND management!

By the way, the CEO who took over for Mr. Nichols at Pineville KY, after Mr. Nichols ran that hospital into the ground confirmed that Mr. Nichols fires good family doctors and general surgeons and then replaces them with high-paid specialists.  He confirmed that Mr. Nichols has that backward.  We need good family doctors and general surgeons first.  Once they are in place, then perhaps more specialists are appropriate. Similarly,

Mr. Nichols targeted Doctors in Pineville, KY and in Iron County, MO, and it took a group of doctors to call the Office of the Inspector General of Kentucky to report Mr. Nichols’ irresponsible choice in hiring a subpar and unqualified provider that Mr. Nichols was asked repeatedly not to hire. Mr. Nichols response to the Doctor was, “who are YOU to question ME?“  Mr. Nichols had 26 violations against him in the State of Kentucky. I have that OIG report if anyone wants to see or read it. That 109-page document was also given to the CCMH, I guess some on the Board may not care if Mr.  Nichols was responsible for hiring the Doctor who proceeded to ignore calls from the nurses resulting in patient deaths while under his watch. That report was signed by Terry Nichols in June of 2021.

I have talked to many people within the healthcare field, city governments, and county governments about this. Without fail, they say the same thing. “Mr. Nichols seems nice, until he isn’t.” “Mr. Nichols looks great in the beginning, until he isn’t.” I asked one of the doctors in Pineville, KY, what motivates a man like Mr. Nichols to do what he has done to good people? His response was, “He derives self-pleasure out of destroying people’s lives and livelihoods”. The majority of the Board is sitting idle and doing nothing to investigate Mr. Nichols’ past employment and failures. Has any Board member done an exit interview with the employees that have been targeted and forced out? You might get a reality check about Mr. Nichols unprofessional tactics and unchecked anger. I have many articles and letters, in fact I have an 8” binder stuffed full of information, news articles and letters about Mr. Nichols. I’m happy to share any information I have with anyone. Does the Board know that recently Mr. Nichols willfully ignored a directive from the State Lab Inspector and in the process put a patient’s life at risk? Does the community or Board know that CCMH failed their state lab inspections and was in what is called “immediate jeopardy,” which means the State Inspector threatened to close the CCMH lab permanently? Yet again, Mr. Nichols blamed an employee for HIS failures, and proceeded to annihilate a young woman, who had a long-standing perfect award-winning lab career. It is time for the people to contact the Board members and wake them up. The community has the right to know that there are multiple discrimination complaints being filed against the hospital because of Mr. Nichols’ conduct. People from all walks of life that have had any dealings with Mr. Nichols are now going to be heard. They are anxious to tell their stories now that Mr. Nichols is being exposed.

The financial numbers that Mr. Bozarth cited in his recent letter to this paper are incorrect. According to the signed statement from one Chief Financial Officer (CFO) at a prior hospital who worked under Mr. Nichols, that hospital’s “revenues [were] decreasing while expenses were increasing, but Mr. Nichols tried to control everything at [the hospital], including financial information.  Even though I was CFO, I was not allowed to share detailed revenue reports with the Board.  For example, I was not able to provide data reflecting the revenue attributed to each physician. . .The financial data would have to be filtered through Mr. Nichols to the Board. . . I was not allowed to present the accurate financial numbers to the Board without Mr. Nichols coercing me to present less than the whole picture.”  I suggest that Mr. Bozarth and the other Board members take heed of that statement and do their own audit of the CCMH records instead of just relying on the word of Mr. Nichols.

Everything I have written here is factual.  I have proof of what I am writing and am happy to share that proof or direct you to others from whom you can seek it. I also encourage you to attend CCMH Board meetings, to ask questions of the Board members, to speak at the public meetings, or to engage in a town hall to discuss CCMH. Meetings are held each month, and you can find out about those on the CCMH website or by calling the hospital.

CCMH is of critical importance to me and to our community.  Please get involved.  Ask questions. Seek information.  And then come to your own conclusions.  In the meantime, I thank all my friends and family that have held me up in prayer, sent positive and encouraging messages, bible verses, lifted my spirits and thanked me for speaking out. In the midst of these trying times, I’ve been blessed with new friendships that have come to mean a great deal to me, so I thank the Lord for that blessing.

Robin Fugate