Top 5 News Stories of 2016

Published 3:08 pm Friday, December 30, 2016

1. Hospital creates plan to crawl out of debt

Rural hospitals across the country are struggling to stay afloat in 2016, and Memorial Hospital and Manor is no exception.

After losing more than $11 million over the course of 2014 and 2015 and facing an ever-growing accounts payable, the hospital took its first step in a new plan to try and right the ship in October: terminating 18 employees.

Email newsletter signup

“Obviously, we always hate to do this,” said Hospital Board Chairman Glennie Bench. “But, we looked at it from a productivity standpoint, regarding the volumes we are doing in the various departments. We took it at a department by department basis. If the volume changes, we will add jobs back.”

Bainbridge’s need for a hospital is clear-cut. Without one, new industry and companies will not see Decatur County as a viable location to do business.

The new plan that the Hospital Authority of the City of Bainbridge is acting on will hopefully keep it alive. Parts of the plan include updating the revenue cycle, where billing accuracy has fallen short and reduced cash flow significantly. This was a key issue to address when interim CFO Gregg Majors was hired in September.

“Particularly when it comes to the revenue cycle, I think this hospital went through a lot of trouble with information system challenges,” Majors said in December. “We changed our hardware out and so on, but all of that doesn’t really excuse the performance, because we did have bad performance that came to the revenue cycle.”

Other goals of the plan include engaging in a health care cooperative with Decatur County and the City of Bainbridge to reduce employee healthcare costs and potentially save up to $180,000; pursuing grant funding and recruiting new physicians.

However, if the plan does not work, Memorial Hospital and Manor CEO Billy Walker said it could be a sign that it’s time to sell.

“This is going to be unpopular answer, but if our plan doesn’t work and we can’t turn it around, we are going to have to look at somebody else owning this hospital,” Walker said earlier this month.

2. Tim Cochran hired as new DCSS superintendent

Tim Cochran signed a three-year contract in May to be superintendent of the Decatur County School System, officially starting the job on July 1.

Cochran was superintendent in Atkinson County, Georgia, since 2011 prior to moving down to Decatur County.

“I’m very excited about joining Decatur County Schools,” Tim Cochran said in May. “There’s a lot of great people over here and I look forward to getting to know them and working with them and doing the very best we can for the kids of Decatur County.”

The Decatur County Board of Education hired a superintendent search firm, King-Cooper and Associates, in March after the announcement that former superintendent Fred Rayfield would be resigning from his position. Cochran was named the sole finalist for the position on May 12, and after a 14-day waiting period, he was hired.

“He’s well respected, has good people skills, seems to be very knowledgeable,” DCBoE Chairman Sydney Cochran said in May. “We feel very confident that he will fit in well here and be a good fit for our community and a good leader for our school system, and we’re excited about him being here.”

3. Recreation Authority kicks off officially in July

On July 1, all public recreation facilities and programs in Bainbridge came under the jurisdiction of the Bainbridge-Decatur County Recreation Authority.

According to a service delivery strategy agreement signed by Bainbridge and Decatur County in March 2016, all recreation under both entities would be combined and governed by a new body of six members, with three members chosen by the city and the other three chosen by the county.

The Recreation Authority updated old Leisure Services logos and launched the website, where all things related to recreation in Bainbridge can be found. In its first six months, the authority held its first annual Sprint on the Flint Triathlon, purchased 21 acres for future projects and approved a new facilities use policy.

The authority voted in April to close the Pines Golf Course after control of the property was handed over by the Decatur County Board of Commissioners. Discussions are currently in progress about turning the property into a sporting clays course and shooting range.

4. Prestigious judge positions see changes throughout year

A few changes occurred in elected judge positions this year in Decatur County, and the circumstances that led to each appointment were interesting, to say the least.

In September 2015, Superior Court Judge A. Wallace Cato announced his plan to not run for reelection in 2016 after serving nearly 40 years on the bench.

The opening intrigued many potential candidates, but the three that were in the hunt for the seat by May were Heather Lanier, a South Georgia prosecutor, Ryan Cleveland, a Bainbridge attorney, and Mike Bankston, assistant district attorney in the South Georgia Judicial Circuit.

After an alleged DUI charge against Bankston was dismissed only a week before the May Primaries, the people of South Georgia Judicial Circuit spoke. Lanier took 4,061 votes and Cleveland took 4,094 votes, with Bankston tallying 3,601 votes. Lanier and Cleveland entered a runoff race, and Lanier won in July.

In January, State Court Judge George Floyd announced he would retire at the end of 2016. He served as State Court Judge since July 2001. David Kendrick, a Bainbridge attorney, was elected to the seat during the May Primary Election without opposition.

On Jan. 1, 2016, Maggie Rentz-Smith took over as Chief Magistrate Judge after a surprising retirement announcement from former Judge Ralph Smith. After completing the rest of Ralph Smith’s term, Rentz-Smith announced her plan to run for the position’s next full term. She won against Dan Stone in the May Primary Election.

5. Meredian sues former CEO, Pereira files countersuit

Meredian Holdings Group, Inc, filed suit against its former CEO, Paul Pereira, and all his affiliated companies in August under accusations of fraud, misrepresentation and conspiracy. Among accusing Pereira of having false college degrees, the lawsuit lists that he:

•    Altered Meredian’s projects and other company information during presentations to potential customers and investors.
•    Used Meredian funds to reimburse himself for non-business related expenses, including dry cleaning services, dining expenses, boat fuel and fishing equipment.
•    Used Meredian’s money on “useless endeavors” including establishing an office in Miami, Florida, hiring personal friends of Pereira who lacked any relevant experience and brought no value to Meredian.
•    Repeatedly engaged in self-dealing, including causing thousands of dollars to be paid to The House of Miami, a graphic design company owned and controlled by Pereira and his wife, which the couple directly received.
•    Failed to show up to numerous meetings with potential and current customers or investors, or showed up and then becoming grossly inebriated.

Pereira fired back with a countersuit two months later, arguing that Pereira, his wife and his associated companies are owed damages upwards of $600,000 for the alleged mistreatments brought on by MHG and its board of directors. Meredian, which has since changed its name to Danimer Scientifics, has money invested into it by residents of Decatur County.