A group of healthcare providers were never paid for 1 month’s work at a rural Texas hospital, they said, blaming the hospital’s contractor. A nurse practitioner in the group has filed a local police report against the contractor.
HospitalMD, a suburban Atlanta-based healthcare staffing firm, was contracted by Moore County Hospital District (MCHD) in Dumas, a northwestern Texas town of about 15,000 residents, to staff its hospital of more than 300 employees with medical personnel, including nurse practitioners and physicians.
Jim Burnette, president and CEO of HospitalMD, hired 13 healthcare workers as subcontractors over at least 2 years, a few of the workers said.
When MCHD told Burnette his monthly contract would not be renewed after January 2021, emails indicate that he failed to pay some of his subcontractors for their work in December 2020 and early January when he was still the hospital’s contractor.
According to emails between Burnette and at least two of these workers, he still had not paid them as of April.
“I don’t know how he sleeps at night,” said Tarah Romanski, NP, a nurse practitioner who left MCHD in February to work at another Texas facility.
Burnette and the hospital both declined to speak with MedPage Today for this story.
HospitalMD was established by Burnette in 2007, according to public records, although its website states it has been operational since 2004. The website also states that the people behind HospitalMD used to own and operate rural hospitals “over several years” and “are now one of the leading providers of Emergency Medicine (EM), Hospital Medicine (HM) and rural Hybrid Medicine for Community hospitals.”
Burnette “has worked in healthcare” for more than 20 years, according to a 2017 guest column he wrote for Becker’s Hospital Review.
Within a few days after telling Burnette they would no longer be using his services, MCHD had a new staffing firm in place, sources said. Several of HospitalMD’s former subcontractors continue to work there.
On January 4, Romanski was in the middle of a 36-hour shift when she received an email from Burnette. She was no longer employed by HospitalMD — and, in effect, the hospital, he wrote.
Should I continue working? Do I even have malpractice insurance right now? Romanski wondered.
According to three of the subcontractors, Burnette ignored his remaining MCHD obligations.
Romanski went back to work and completed her shift, despite knowing she would likely not get paid for this work in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I can’t physically leave the people of Texas without a provider,” she said. “It was just me and the doctor, and I had to manage the ER with no help.”
“Ethically, I couldn’t walk out of there, but I wanted to,” she added. “It was devastating — the hardest I’ve ever worked, and I never got paid.”
With her husband having been laid off early during the pandemic, Romanski was the sole provider for a family with two children — including one with a college tuition to pay.
Romanski began looking for another job, but continued to work at MCHD through the new staffing firm while she interviewed. The new firm has consistently paid the healthcare workers on time, a few of them said.
However, Romanski has not received a penny for her December work through HospitalMD, estimating that she is owed $22,000.
Burnette has since emailed the subcontractors, promising to pay them. “I will pay you for your clinical time and travel as soon as I can,” he wrote on April 22 to Romanski, who would travel across the state to Dumas from her suburban Houston home. “I am having conversations with prospects but have not [sic] new contracts to date. I am sorry that I became unable to pay you as agreed. But I will, and I will make it up to you. I just don’t know when this will happen.”
“I will not let my obligation go unresolved,” he wrote that same day to Gene Elder, NP. “I just don’t know when this will happen.”
None of the subcontractors who spoke to MedPage Today has heard from Burnette since April.
Neither Elder nor Romanski expect Burnette to ever pay them. “He has no intention to pay us,” said Elder, who still works at MCHD. “He’s a crook, is what he is. … We haven’t heard from him in months now.”
“My goal is to make sure this guy doesn’t do this to someone else,” he added.
In addition to Romanski, many of the subcontractors traveled to work at MCHD, they said; Jim Perez, for example, expensed rental cars and hotel rooms that Burnette never reimbursed.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” Elder said. “We all felt an obligation to go there and work, especially during COVID. … You can’t leave your patients, and it’s a nice place to work.”
Prior to December 2020, Burnette had also failed to pay other MCHD subcontractors monies he owed them and was late with some payments, asking the providers if he could pay them some of their compensation on time and the rest later, Elder and Romanski said.
Elder had emailed Burnette in March 2020 asking for a defined pay date in their contract. As written, the contract stated they would be paid “on or about the 20th” monthly, according to emails between Elder and Burnette. “We should all revisit the pay schedule. All of us would like a designated payday,” Elder wrote at the time.
“I agree completely,” Burnette responded. “I don’t want to lose any of you. You are ‘top gun’ providers.”
Alas, he never adjusted the contract, Elder said.
The Dumas Police Department confirmed that it has been looking into the matter since Elder reported Burnette in May of this year, but declined further comment, citing an ongoing investigation.
The police have not since contacted Romanski, Elder, or Perez, they said.
Last Updated July 27, 2021
Ryan Basen reports for MedPage’s enterprise & investigative team. He has worked as a journalist for more than a decade, earning national and state honors for his investigative work. He often writes about issues concerning the practice and business of medicine. Follow