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Judge OKs hospital's senior support
WOODBINE -- The St. Marys Hospital Authority will be allowed to continue providing financial support for the city's senior citizen programs.

Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett agreed during a hearing at the Camden County Courthouse in Woodbine Wednesday afternoon to modify a 2007 court order requiring the proceeds of the St. Marys Convalescent Center be spent on indigent health care. The request to modify the order was made by both the St. Marys City Council and its appointed hospital authority.

Lawyer Amanda Williams, a former Superior Court judge, was co-counsel for the hospital authority at the hearing. She said the court erred when it made the 2007 ruling requiring the hospital authority to spend the proceeds on indigent health care for city residents. She said the law didn't apply in this instance.

"In 1981, when the hospital was sold, the statute didn't even exist," she said. "After the hospital was sold, it became a convalescent center. They didn't sell a hospital. If we had been wiser at the time, this would never been an issue."

Before the ruling, St. Marys Lawyer Ken Nelms read a brief filed on behalf of Jeremy Spencer, who filed a complaint to block to agreement. He said state law requires the money be spent on indigent health care.

Nelms asked the judge to reject the joint request. He also asked Scarlett to "sequester" the authority's bank account because some of the money was spend on dinner theater trips, ZUMBA dance lessons, TAI CHI classes, proms, pool tables, a flat-screen TV, entertainment and meals "for a few well-heeled individuals." He said city officials and authority members defied the 2007 court order and asked for an investigation to determine if any funds were illegally spent.

St. Marys City Attorney Gary Moore expressed his displeasure with Nelms' allegation, saying there has never been a "nefarious plan to collude."

"There is no proof of any illegal use of money," he said.

The nursing home was sold in 2006 to Southeast Georgia Health System for $1.1 million. The money was invested and the authority currently has more than $3.6 million in the bank.

The authority also purchased a building worth nearly $500,000 that is home to the city's senior center and spends $80,000 a year to support various programs and activities.

Nelms said Attorney General W. Wright Banks said hospital authority lawyer Jim Stein never contacted his office to ask for a ruling on whether the proceeds could be spent on senior programs.

Williams agreed, saying Stein never claimed to have contacted the Attorney General's Office. Instead, he contacted the Georgia Office of Legislative Affairs to ask if there was any law that would prohibit spending the proceeds on senior programs.

After Scarlett announced his decision, Nelms questioned how the decision was reached.

"It sounds like the decision was made before I got here," he said moments after Scarlett walked into his chambers.

Nelms said a temporary restraining order will be filed within 48 hours after Scarlett's written order to modify the agreement.

Stein said he doesn't believe Nelms has the proof to convince a judge to grant a temporary restraining order to block the modification.

"I don't know if they can meet that criteria," he said. "The rules are pretty tough."

* Reporter Gordon Jackson writes about Camden County and other local topics. Contact him at gjackson@thebrunswicknews.com, on Facebook or at 464-7655.



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