Mercy & Sparks Hospitals Suing Fort Smith EMS

FORT SMITH (KFSM) -- Mercy and Sparks Hospitals are jointly suing Fort Smith EMS to gain control over ambulance services, according to a lawsuit filed by both hospitals.

Fort Smith EMS dispatches out and picks up patients in ambulances for Mercy and Sparks Hospitals. They said the hospitals are trying to take control of their operation because it would mean control and monetary gain for both hospitals.

"They made claims about our billing practices which is completely false, but this isn't about performance either this is about money," said Tim Hearn with Fort Smith EMS. "Mercy wants to own and control Fort Smith EMS. Mercy currently operates ambulance service in Springfield and multiple parts of Missouri and multiple areas of Oklahoma and multiple areas of southeast Benton County. We have tried to meet with both CEOs or Mercy and Sparks, but they both refused."

In the lawsuit, the hospitals said Fort Smith EMS doesn't provide adequate time response when transporting patients. The lawsuit also alleges the hospitals have been billed for services not of normal medical bill practices.

“We only provide the services they asked us to provide," Hearn said. "They pay as for the services that we provide and that is it. There is nothing else past that.”

Hearn said Fort Smith EMS is assessed yearly by The Arkansas State Department of Health and have not been cited or reprimanded for transport time. The lawsuit alleges that Dr. James Bledsoe, the director of The Arkansas Department of Health’s Trauma System expressed concerns about the length of time it takes Fort Smith EMS to transport patients who need services outside of the area.

Hearn said he does not believe there is an issue and Fort Smith EMS transports patients due to the lack of specialties in Fort Smith.

"Lack of neurosurgery is one of our biggest things. That’s no secret. Lack of neurosurgery in Fort Smith and a lack of certain specialties is missing,” he said. This lawsuit is very disappointing to us because we have an excellent working relationship with both Sparks and Mercy."

"Community Health Systems, which I want you to understand, Sparks is one of the largest owners of hospitals in the United States and they have never been a member or an owner of any phase of Fort Smith EMS. Now, Mercy they alleged some things like a subsidy of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for us and this is completely untrue. Mercy is only billed for services rendered. They have not and still do not subsidize Fort Smith EMS in any shape," Hearn said.

Mercy and Sparks Hospitals released the following joint statement:

"As the two hospitals in the Fort Smith community, Mercy and Sparks have an obligation to ensure that those we serve receive the highest quality medical services possible. To help carry this out, Sparks and Mercy have provided substantial financial assistance to support Fort Smith Emergency Medical Services (EMS) since jointly establishing it in 1978.

In 2017, Sparks and Mercy were contacted by Dr. James Bledsoe, director of the Arkansas Department of Health’s trauma system. Dr. Bledsoe expressed concerns about the length of time it takes for trauma patients needing immediate treatment not available in Fort Smith to be transferred from either of the two hospitals. Mercy and Sparks emphasize that the frontline staff of Fort Smith EMS are dedicated servants of the community and provide exceptional service. Unfortunately, discussions with Fort Smith EMS leadership have not provided an effective response to the concerns of the stakeholders of Fort Smith EMS, including those identified by Dr. Bledsoe.

These concerns, as well as others, coupled with our ongoing financial support, led Sparks and Mercy to examine the governance of Fort Smith EMS. It was determined that the bylaws and board structure currently being used by Fort Smith EMS were inappropriately adopted in an effort to shift oversight away from Mercy and Sparks. As the original corporate members of Fort Smith EMS, Mercy and Sparks seek to regain oversight of the EMS board. Our goal is to ensure that our community is appropriately served by this important resource."

To read the full lawsuit, click here.