Unpaid Vendors, Unsafe Staffing, and Begging for Supplies: The Latest on White Rock Medical Center

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White Rock Medical Center cut all security guards and most of the nursing staff that wasn’t directly caring for patients this spring to reduce expenses. House supervisors, who usually oversee departments, and charge nurses, who supervise patient care nurses, were both cut in a move that left little supervision or help to nurses on the front lines. “It was a huge safety risk,” one former employee said. “All units were left to fend for themselves.”

Dangerously low staffing numbers were just the beginning of the issues at White Rock Medical Center, according to several former and current employees who spoke with D CEO Healthcare about the last several months at the hospital. Most wanted to remain anonymous because they still work in the industry, but they paint a picture of a leadership group in over their heads and making questionable decisions. “There were so many unethical things going on. I didn’t want my nursing license to get wrapped up in that,” one former employee said of Heights Healthcare of Texas’ leadership.

How Did We Get Here?

After a failed arbitration with White Rock Medical Center’s previous owners, Pipeline Health, Heights decided to fire more than one-third of the hospital staff in April. This caused the hospital to not be able to receive ambulances for a few days until it hired back the staff needed to maintain its trauma designation, ICU, and emergency department.

Courtney Golden leads infection prevention and employee health at White Rock Medical Center. “I was here for seven days before everyone was laid off, and there was no communication on what had happened,” she said. “I had survivor’s guilt. Why should I make it when someone else who has been here 47 years wouldn’t be here? People come in mad, sad, and angry.”

Despite a law that requires 60 days’ notice for a firing of that size, employees were fired with no notice or severance in a midnight email. Even those in management and leadership positions were unaware of the firing. Meanwhile, employees began to realize that the insurance premiums deducted from their paychecks weren’t making it to the insurance company when they received bills for treatment that should have been covered by insurance. The lack of notice and insurance premium issues have resulted in a class action lawsuit against the hospital leadership on behalf of employees fired during the mass layoff.

By several accounts, the mass firing was chaotic, disorganized, and poorly communicated. After the employees were let go, the hospital was forced to close its inpatient units, and the remaining staff were tasked with finding beds for the several dozen patients being treated in the hospital. Employees working with other hospitals were asked questions they didn’t know the answer to: Why were all the staff cut? How long would they have the patients? Was WRMC shutting down?

After the patients were transferred out, sources tell D CEO Healthcare that WRMC leadership realized they would be losing reimbursement if they didn’t have the staff to receive ambulances and operate an intensive care unit. So, after calling hospitals all week and saying the hospital was getting rid of its inpatient services, the hospital rehired staff and opened its inpatient units and ICU again. Sources close to the hiring and firing process said hospital leadership realized it overshot the layoff, and leaders were forced to call their co-workers back and tell them they received the firing email by accident and convince them to return to work. “It was a knee-jerk reaction because the lawsuit didn’t go our way,” one employee said.

Ongoing Issues

Heights CEO is Dr. Mirza Baig, a former neurosurgeon who voluntarily surrendered his medical license in 2021 while he was under investigation by the Texas Medical Board for failing to meet the standard of care for a patient. WRMC employees said he was frequently around the hospital, but WRMC chief operating officer Rashid Syed was running day-to-day operations. Neither Baig, Syed, nor the hospital’s counsel have responded to requests for comment.

The sources D CEO Healthcare spoke with said there was little to no communication with the average employees about the hospital’s future or how decisions were being made. When communication did come, it was abrupt. Sources discussed how a midnight email announcing who was laid off meant that employees working the night shift had their access to the hospital’s systems cut off. “It was chaotic,” one employee said. “In addition to the inhumane way it was done, it was also disorganized.”

Employees also talked about the lack of supplies at the hospital, especially for surgery. Heights owns another surgery center in Hurst, and one employee said that WRMC had that facility order supplies used at the East Dallas hospital because of WRMC’s inability to purchase supplies. “I know a lot of the specialists didn’t want to fill shifts because it was a patient safety issue,” they said. “Surgeons couldn’t get the supplies they needed.”

In other cases, employees talked about asking other hospitals to lend them supplies to complete scheduled surgeries. “We had no chest tubes, and no vendors to give us credit,” one employee said. “We owed so much money to everybody that none of the local hospitals would loan us any supplies.”

To make matters worse, the hospital could not secure a contract with an electronic health record provider, meaning the hospital was forced to revert to paper records. Many younger employees had never used paper records, which are slower and require faxing copious information between facilities or floors. The time and labor needed to go to paper was enormous, and copying the information from one form to another creates more opportunities for error. Billing Medicare and insurance is also cumbersome without an electronic way to do so. Around 96 percent of hospitals now use electronic health records, according to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. “Our IT leader was able to build out a simple record for the emergency department,” Golden said. “However, the floor has 100 percent paper charting.” 

In addition to the surgery suppliers, other vendors weren’t getting paid either. Luby’s stopped supplying the hospital with food for its patients when it didn’t get paid. This forced hospital leadership to go out and purchase their own food from grocery stores for a period.

The health insurance payment wasn’t the only example of money being withdrawn from paychecks and not ending up where it should be. Another employee showed D CEO Healthcare documentation of issues with their 401k retirement plan. Their paychecks showed that money was being withdrawn monthly for the 401k plan, but the online 401k account didn’t reflect those deposits. For the employees who remained after the layoff and were working long hours to keep patients safe and the hospital afloat, learning that they weren’t getting their 401k contributions was devastating. “Several of us didn’t realize that they didn’t put my payments in the account,” one employee said. “Most people haven’t had an experience like this; you would assume they would pay your benefits.”

Heights is currently locked in litigation with its previous owner, Pipeline Health, over a breach of contract. Employees say the lawsuit was referenced during the mass layoffs, though it is unclear how desperate the hospital’s financial situation is. One former employee felt they were not given a clear picture of the funding crisis when they took the job. “They were in a much deeper hole than what they had presented,” they said of Heights leadership. “Their knowledge of how to get themselves out of it wasn’t there. Their experience and knowledge just wasn’t there.”

Golden worries about the hospital’s future. Since 1959, its geographic location has been an important part of the healthcare safety net in Dallas. “There is a lot of frustration from people that have left since the layoffs,” she said. “They believe in this place, but it is hard when there is no transparency. We have no idea day-to-day what is happening. Is someone fighting for White Rock? Is someone fighting for this place to serve the community?”


Will Maddox

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Will is the senior writer for D CEO magazine and the editor of D CEO Healthcare. He’s written about healthcare…