FLORENCE - City Councilman Sam Pendleton is well known for his outspokenness and pointed comments, but even he admits he went too far earlier this week at a council meeting.
He described the partnership between Helen Keller Hospital in Sheffield and Huntsville Hospital as a pimp and prostitute relationship that would ultimately diminish Keller. He has been adamant in his support for RegionalCare Hospital Partners, which bought Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital in Florence more than a year ago. Officials there want to build a new hospital in Florence. Keller and three Huntsville Hospital-affiliated hospitals have filed challenges with the state opposing its construction.
Pendleton called the TimesDaily on Thursday morning to say he will remain an advocate for RegionalCare’s plan to build, but added he will be more judicious with his words.
“I don’t usually do this unless I can’t live with it,” he said. “I want to tone down my statement and apologize for the words I used at the recent council meeting. I could have used better words, but I didn’t.
“I know I have caused great concern to a number of hard-working professionals as well as citizens of the Shoals,” he said. “I make this statement after reading my own words and comments in the paper, and it has caused me great concern. I do apologize.”
Pendleton spearheaded a resolution in June to rebid the city’s ambulance service, which is owned by Keller. The Lauderdale County Commission was forced to follow suit because Lauderdale EMS serves most of the county, and the contracts are intertwined.
David Spillers, chief executive officer of Huntsville Hospital, said Pendleton’s comments stung.
“That was mean,” he said. “I’ve never met or talked to him.”
Doug Arnold, chief executive officer of Helen Keller Hospital, said in a prepared statement that the relationship between Keller and Huntsville is one of management, not ownership.
“Our relationship with Huntsville Hospital is a result of our sharing the same beliefs in a not-for-profit health care philosophy,” he said. “Helen Keller Hospital is still very much owned by the Colbert County-Northwest Alabama Health Care Authority and the people of our community.”
Arnold said the issue before the Florence City Council is ambulance service, not hospital construction.
“I feel as though (Pendleton’s) comments were not very well thought out,” he said. “We all say things we regret.”
Spillers described the hospital business regionally as akin to the Auburn and Alabama football rivalry.
“We’re going to compete, but we don’t need to make it personal,” he said.
Spillers said there are broader problems all hospitals, including privately-owned ones, face that are of more importance to providing quality health care.
“We’re in Alabama, and we don’t get paid very well for what we do — from Medicare, Medicaid and the commercial payers like Blue Cross,” he said, referring to low reimbursement rates. “It’s the worst system in the country, as far as I’m concerned. It’s bad for Keller, ECM and Huntsville.”
Pendleton said he believes the competition between the hospitals would be better understood if all parties would provide more information about what they are doing.
“I believe both sides should provide the public with as much information that can and should be public,” he said. “A well-informed public is a supporting public. As a supporter of RegionalCare, and as an elected official of Florence, I encourage this side to do that.”
Robert Palmer can be reached at 256-740-5720 or robert.palmer@TimesDaily.com.