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Charlotte Area News

Charlotte Observer: CHS, County Head To Court

Carolinas HealthCare System said Thursday it has initiated "legal action," asking a court to require Mecklenburg County to honor the terms of its contract with the hospital authority. The system also said it wants a court to declare that CHS has fulfilled its obligations under the contract. The hospital has disputed a claim that it hasn't provided certain patient data and other information to the county. The county has withheld payments to the hospital until the alleged breaches are resolved. CHS spokesman Scott White said the hospital filed a court document in Mecklenburg on Thursday, but a copy wasn't immediately available. "We regret that a long and successful relationship with the county has reached this point and that we must take these steps," the hospital system said in a statement. "However, it is essential that we not only defend the integrity of CHS, but also assure the security of the patients and staff who are directly affected by the actions of Mecklenburg County." County administrators could not be reached for comment Thursday evening, though an attorney said he hadn't received anything from the hospital. The court filing came two days after county commissioners agreed to end a longtime contract with Carolinas HealthCare effective June 30, 2013. The board also said it wanted county officials to approach CHS about working with a third-party mediator to try to resolve a variety of issues related to the contract. In a statement sent late Thursday afternoon, the hospital said it is not opposed to mediation. But, officials wrote, "in light of our recent experience in trying to work with the county, we have concluded that any mediation process would need to have much more structure than that which currently exists." The hospital said it hoped the court action would lead to a "structured and reasonable mediation process" as the county and hospital phase out of its contract. The county currently pays CHS about $40 million to run a psychiatric hospital at CMC-Randolph and to provide services at the health department. The decision by commissioners to terminate the hospital contract was the latest in an escalating dispute between Carolinas HealthCare and the county. The tension has largely centered on county funding and the hospital's plans for a psychiatric facility in Huntersville. Before this week's vote, commissioners had already agreed to end a subsidy given to area hospitals for indigent care. County Manager Harry Jones also proposed this spring to phase out money for an existing psychiatric hospital at CMC-Randolph in three years. The hospital questioned the moves, with a CHS leader reportedly telling two Mecklenburg commissioners in early June that the county should not be surprised if the system pursued "legal recourse" over the decision to end the indigent payments. Commissioner Chair Jennifer Roberts said at the time she understood that to mean ending the agreement with the county. A couple of days later, the county said the hospital was in breach of its agreement. This week, the county alleged a second breach in saying the hospital has failed to conduct psychiatric evaluations for certain social services clients. Both the hospital and county offered plans last week to terminate the contract. The plan backed by commissioners ends the pact a year earlier than CHS had proposed.