Former Union General administrators arraigned in federal court

News

GAINESVILLE, Ga. – According to a release from the Northern District of Georgia U.S. Attorney’s Office, three former administrators of Union General Hospital were arraigned Monday, April 9, in federal court in Gainesville, Georgia.

John Michael Gowder, Dr. David Gowder, and Dr. James Heaton, all of Blairsville, Georgia, were all indicted on federal charges for illegally prescribing and obtaining thousands of doses of prescription pain medications outside the usual course of professional medical practice and for no legitimate medical purpose.

From 2011 to 2015, John Michael Gowder, 60, served as chief executive officer of Union General while Dr. David Gowder, 61, served as the hospital’s emergency room director and Dr. James Heaton operated a family practice clinic in Blairsville during that time, according to the release.

As part of an Operation SCOPE (Strategically Combatting Opioids through Prosecution and Enforcement) investigation conducted by the Northern District of Georgia U.S. Attorney’s Office the Gowders and Heaton were indicted for illegally prescribing and obtaining doses of oxycodone, hydrocodone and alprazolam. During their affiliations with Union General, the Gowders and Heaton, according to the release, personally filled illegal prescriptions at local pharmacies in Georgia and crossed state lines filling prescriptions at pharmacies in North Carolina and in Tennessee.

The release alleged the names of other physicians were forged in writing illegal prescriptions and the Gowders themselves abused their administrative roles at Union General to intimidate employees of Union General into concealing the unlawful acquisition of the controlled substances.

This case is being investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Union County Sheriff’s Office, the Cherokee County (North Carolina) Sheriff’s Office, Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency and the Zell Miller Mountain Parkway Drug Task Force.

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Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Expansions viewed, accomplishments discussed at Union General board meeting

Business, News

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga. – During the Board of Directors meeting Tuesday, Feb. 27, administrators of Union General Hospital got a first-hand look at some the hospital’s newest expansions and renovations on the campus.

Lewis Kelley, chief executive officer of Union General, took officials on a guided tour of the hospital’s forthcoming orthopedic wing to be shared by Dr. Ronald A. Macbeth Jr. and Dr. Douglas Nuelle. The wing features three exams for each doctor as well as one fracture room and one x-ray room to be shared by both physicians. It is large enough to support three total providers and contains a spacious waiting room for patients.

Chief Executive Officer Lewis Kelley, left, and other hospital administrators get a preview of the x-ray room at Union General Hospital’s new orthopedic wing.

According to Kelley during the tour, the wing is a renovation of one of the oldest areas of Union General and is expected to open the second week of March.

Next, hospitals hopped in vehicles and took a short ride down Deep South Farm Road from the main facility to to get a look at a new two-story medical office facility that will be leased to family practice physician, Dr. Thomas Gary, and Northeast Georgia Cardiology. Gary’s family practice will occupy the top, street-level floor of the new facility while the bottom floor will serve as the new home of Northeast Georgia Cardiology. Gary’s space will consist of 20 exam rooms and will host seven total healthcare providers, according to Kelley. The Northeast Georgia facility will feature state-of-the-art open work space amenities complete with 18 exam rooms, a treadmill room and nuclear stress test room.

Back at the board meeting room within Union General, Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) Julia Barnett gave a brief medical staff update for Chatuge Regional Hospital in Hiawassee. Barnett reported the medical staff is working to improve customer service throughout the facility in an effort to improve Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) scores for the facility. As a result, all bedside nurses are now performing callbacks for all inpatients, Barnett stated.

Officials and administrators from Union General Hospital preview a new medical office building located on Deep South Farm Road just down from the main hospital facility in Blairsville.

“We already do those here at Union. I’m pleased to hear (Chatuge) is doing that, so on all their inpatients, observation patients, swingbed patients – so anybody on the inpatient side, they’re having the bedside nurses call for follow-up phone calls … and they have plans to start ER (emergency room) callbacks soon in the future,” Barnett said.

Ryan Snow, assistant administrator, presented an update on the forthcoming Chatuge Behavioral Health facility, set to open March 5 in Hiawassee. “We’re very excited about that,” Snow said.

Snow also stated Georgia Commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) Frank Berry recently toured the facility and was pleased the progress at Chatuge. “It was nice to be able to show him some of things that we were looking at (in) expanding our footprint in mental health in Hiawassee,” Snow stated.

Bringing the focus of the meeting to Union General, CNO Barnett reported to the board UGH received a five-star rating according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Hospital Compare website report in December 2017. Barnett went on to say UGH is one of only six hospitals in Georgia to receive such a rating and no other medical facility in the region holds the same distinction. According to Barnett, UGH will hold the five-star rating at least until June 2018 when the newest ratings from CMS are released.

CMS rates over 4,000 hospitals nationwide on its Hospital Compare website and bases its ratings on 57 quality measures within seven areas of focus: mortality, safety of care, readmission, patient experience, effectiveness of care, timeliness of care and the efficient use of medical imaging. Only 337 hospitals across the nation received a five out of five star rating in CMS’ December release.

Barnett also announced UGH was ranked number 43 in the top 100 SafeCare Hopsitals in the nation, which falls in the top 1 percent nationwide in hospital safety. According to Barnettt’s report, UGH was the only hospital in Georgia ranked in the top 100 in this category.

Chief Operating Officer (COO) Michael Gay gave a construction update and stated the hospital would relocating its endoscopy staff to a temporary area within the next two weeks to allow renovation of the hospital’s endoscopy wing. Gay said the construction would likely take 12 to 14 weeks to complete.

Gay also mentioned the new parking employee lot directly across Deep South Farm Road is nearing completion.

“We’re working very closely with the county now to go ahead put in the lights for the crosswalk … but we actually do not want to start utilizing that area until we get those lights up and going. The county said that we’re probably about three or four weeks away from being able to have that completed,” Gay explained.

The COO also read an email he had received from the hospital’s valet parking supervisor, Michael Gailey. Gay reminded the board of how busy the hospital has been recently and said, “One of things that people see when they walk in this building is our valet people.”

In the email, Gailey shared with Gay the story of a couple who had needed to frequent the hospital several times a week for the past six months. Gailey told of the attentiveness and kind service the valet staff had shown to the couple during their visits to the hospital. Recently, the husband stopped by the valet station, and as the attendant offered to retrieve the wheelchair from the couple’s vehicle for the man’s wife, the man told the attendant that was not necessary. The man explained to the attendant his wife had passed away earlier that morning and that his wife told him the night before, “Please go by and tell the attendants what an impact they’ve had on my life.”

“A lot of times we hear a lot of the negatives that go on,” Gay said. “I just wanted to share something that – although it’s such a tough time for this person in (his) life – what this hospital and that valet parking meant to them.”

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Rayfield presents school security and safety update

News

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga. – During the Union County Board of Education (BOE) work session Tuesday, Feb. 20, Dr. Fred Rayfield, superintendent for Union County Schools, delivered an update on school security and safety procedures in the wake of the recent school shooting in Florida.

Rayfield stated there are three non-negotiable duties for which all employees of Union County Schools are responsible: teach students, protect students and act ethically and professionally.

The superintendent clarified that all security and safety plans and protocols for Union County Schools have been approved by the state and Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA), and Union County has been used as a model for other north Georgia school systems to follow.

Dr. Fred Rayfield, superintendent of Union County Schools, updates the Board of Education on school safety and security policies and measures Tuesday, Feb. 20.

“Every aspect is reviewed annually,” Rayfield said of the school system’s security and safety policies. “Safety enhancements and additions are an ongoing priority.”

Currently, according to Rayfield, Union County Schools employ three school resource officers (SROs) from the Union County Sheriff’s Office as well as two security officers and one security guard who mans the guard shack at Union County High School.

Additionally, other system-wide safety features include a required picture ID for all school system employees, security cameras inside and outside of facilities, security cameras on buses, thorough visitor sign-in processes, secure “buzz-through” main entry points at facilities, 24/7 monitoring of electronic threats and messages on social media and other online outlets, and on-site panic buttons.

Rayfield explained the school system has spent over $715,000 over the last five years on these and other safety enhancements for schools, which averages to $271 a student spent for safety and security measures.

“I can assure you,” Rayfield told the audience at the meeting, “that there are some things in place here that make me feel very good about where we’re at with security and that we’re making progress toward getting better … I believe that we do everything that we can to protect kids no matter what the situation, and I applaud the (BOE) for appropriating the resources over the last three to five years .”

Following Rayfield’s presentation, BOE member Janna Akins stated, “I think it’s hard to fathom that we’ve got kindergartners that we should be concerned about in these kind of situations, but that’s just the times that we live in now. This information was very helpful, and I appreciate the board and the school system’s approach of not just having a reactionary plan but an ongoing plan to make (safety) a priority.”

Also during the work session, Courtney Waller, school nutrition program director, presented a slight revision to the school system’s wellness policy. Waller explained the policy, according to federal mandates, must be reassessed every three years

According to Waller, the revision would change the wording from “all food and beverages made available on campus during the school day shall be consistent with the minimum requirements of federal law” to “all food and beverages available for purchase …”

Later, in the regular meeting, as the board was about to approve the revision, Rayfield explained this proposed revision must remain tabled for 30 days before final approval can be made to change the policy.

In the regular meeting, Superintendent Rayfield awarded two presentations with the first being an art student recognition awarded to second-grader Emma Taylor. Taylor’s design was selected for use on the Union County School System Christmas card in 2017. “Thank you for a beautiful piece of artwork,” Rayfield told Taylor.

Next, Rayfield presented representatives from Union General Hospital – Lewis Kelley, chief executive officer, Michael Gay, chief operating officer, and Leslie Daniel, administrative liason – with a Partner in Education award.

“They do a tremendous amount of work throughout the school system to provide lots of services for our students and employees,” Rayfield said of the hospital’s partnership with Union County Schools, “and we’re just absolutely excited to recognize Union General Hospital as our community partner for this month.”

In other business, the BOE unanimously approved, as submitted, all principals’ quarterly reports, the monthly financial reports, fiscal year 2018 budget amendments, and personnel recommendations.

 

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Union General talks parking expansion during monthly board meeting

Business, News

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga. – Chief Executive Officer of Union General Hospital Lewis Kelley recommended to the hospital’s Board of Directors at their monthly meeting Tuesday, Nov. 28, to proceed with plans to expand parking at its Blairsville facility.

Kelley explained the hospital owns a forested strip of a land adjacent to Union General that, if cleared, would allow for approximately 50 more parking spaces. The lot, located just across Deep South Farm Road, would be used for employee parking and would make available more spaces in its main lot for patients and visitors to the hospital.

“We’re in desperate need of parking,” Kelley told the board. “If you come over here on some of our days, every piece of parking we have is full.”

Kelley stated about 50 trees would need to be cut and cleared, and the bid cost for site development is approximately $49,600. The CEO further explained paving for the lot would not be able to completed until spring; however, prior to the paving, the lot could be graveled to allow for sooner use. Kelley also stated the hospital would speak with Union County Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris about the possibility of adding a crosswalk with a caution light to provide employees safe crossing from the lot.

Though the amount for the project is under Kelley’s $50,000 spending limit, the CEO asked the board to approve the expenditure, which was approved unanimously.

Kelley also brought to the board’s attention the need to replace a piece of ear nose and throat (ENT) equipment for the operating room that failed two weeks prior to the meeting. According to Kelley, hospital officials are evaluating the situation and taking bids to replace the equipment. The equipment, Kelley stated, would cost between $190,000 to $225,000. Currently, the hospital is using a piece of equipment on loan from a private company until a permanent replacement can be attained, according to Kelley.

Also during the meeting, Julia Barnett, chief nursing officer for Union General, announced the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) gave the hospital a five-star rating for the quarter in its latest quality measures rating. “I just want you all to understand how hard that all of our folks have worked to get to a five-star rating,” Barnett said.

In addition, Chatuge Regional Hospital in Hiawassee received a four-star rating from CMS.

The board also approved the hospital’s updated Organizational Plan for Patient Care Services, which, according to Barnett, is a CMS required document that outlines and explains all of Union General’s patient services and is updated annually.

Chief Financial Officer Nick Townsend delivered the monthly financial statement and reported Union General has netted $2.5 million this fiscal year to date in comparison to $3.6 million this time last fiscal year. Rising healthcare and health insurance costs across the industry, Townsend stated, are contributing factors to the decrease.

Townsend also reported Union General received $74,000 from the Georgia Rural Hospital Tax Credit while Chatuge Regional received $17,000 from the tax credit. As for the hospital’s clinics, Townsend stated, “Overall visits continue to trend upward each month.”

Michael Gay, chief operating officer, presented a construction update for the hospital’s orthopedic wing expansion stating the demolition phase has been completed and walls have been constructed in the wing. Gay estimated a completion date of February 2018 for the construction.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Former Union General Hospital Officials Back in the News

News

Blairsville, GA – John Michael Gowder, more commonly known as Mike Gowder, former Chief Executive Officer of Union General Hospital, Inc., which controlled the Union County entity known as Union General Hospital Authority, was indicted in both Union and Towns Counties on multiple counts of Fraud in Obtaining Controlled Substances (O.C.G.A. 16-13-43(a)(3)) and Violation of Georgia Controlled Substances Act (O.C.G.A. 16-13-30(a)). Gowder was indicted in Towns County in July 5, 2017 on 32 counts and in Union County on July 7, 2017 on 4 counts. Gowder’s associate, former Board Member of Union General Hospital, Inc., Dr. James Lanier Heaton, was indicted in Union County on July 7, 2017 on 44 counts in connection with this case. Due to the large amount of indictments being processed in the Union County Clerk of Superior Court Office, Fetch Your News was not able to obtain hard copies of the Union County indictments on Gowder and Heaton; therefore, we are not yet privy to the substance of the violations they were indicted for in Union County. However, we will update this story with the particulars of the indictments as soon as they are available.

Dr. James Lanier Heaton, age 60.

Dr. George David Gowder III, age 59

Gowder’s brother, George David Gowder III, and his niece, Jamie Lee Harkins, were both indicted April 20, 2017 on 66 counts in connection with this Union General Hospital scandal (see May 1, 2017 FYN article).

Jamie Lee Harkins, age 36

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at www.fetchyournews.com

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Dr. David Gowder indicted on at least 66 counts

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Enotah Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jeff Langley

Enotah Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jeff Langley

Dr. David Gowder, former Board Member of Union General Hospital Authority and Board Member of Union General Hospital, Inc., was indicted by a Union County Grand Jury on Thursday and Friday on 66 counts including improerly prescribing medications and 4 counts of forging another doctor’s name on a prescription, according to a phone interview with Enotah District Attorney Jeff Langley late Friday afternoon. Langley said Jamie Lee Harkins is a co-defendant in the case. Harkins is believed to be Dr. Gowder’s niece and was indicted on four counts of retrieving medications under another person’s name. Dr. Gowder was indicted last year in Fannin County, GA on similar charges.

Mike Gowder, a dentist at one time, and former President of Union General Hospital and Dr. James Heaton, former CEO of Union General Hospital, Inc., have been arrested, but not yet indicted in Union County in connection with this case.

Gail Nicholson Gowder, wife of Mike Gowder, and Virginia Lou Harkins, Dr. Gowder’s sister, and, mother of Jamie Lee Harkins, have also been arrested but not indicted in Union County in connection with this case.

It appears that Dr. Gowder and the Board of Union General Hospital Authority formed Union General Hospital, Inc. which leased Union General Hospital Authority for 40 years, which gave them control of the hospital with little or no public oversight.

Fetch Your News will have more on this story as it unfolds.

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Union General Hospital, Inc hosts Health Fair

Community

The Union General Hospital held its Health Fair on Saturday morning, April 30th and offered several opportunities for anyone wishing to check up on their health.

They offered lab work, vision and hearing tests, ultra sound for your neck to check for blockages and much more. There was also a quick class on CPR. Union General Hospital is located in Blairsville, so be sure to check with them if you missed the health fair they can still help you with your health questions or visit them online Union General Hospital Website. 

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Joint Operation Nabs 6 in Prescription Drug Fraud including CEO of Union General Hospital

Featured, Featured Stories, News

 

Murphy, NC— Sheriff Derrick Palmer announced the Union County Georgia Sheriff’s Office arrest of James Lanier Heaton, George David Gowder III, John Michael Gowder, Virginia Lou Harkins, Gail Gowder, and Jamie Harkins all who provided Blairsville Georgia addresses, for charges stemming from a joint investigation into prescription fraud.

FYN spoke with officials and the hospital confirms John Michael Gowder is the CEO of Union General.

Gowder  John Michael Gowder

The joint operation involved members of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Tactical Diversion Squad, the Union County Georgia Sheriff’s Office and the Cherokee County North Carolina Sheriff’s Office. Although the investigation is ongoing to date information has been discovered that would indicate that the ring was operating in Cherokee County North Carolina and may be facing charges here as well.

Sheriff Palmer stated “We enjoyed the opportunity to work with the agencies involved. Sheriff Mack Mason and his Office have been a tremendous ally as we are sending the message No longer can you deal drugs across county and state lines – We will hunt you down and prosecute you.”

Sheriff Palmer encourages any one that has information on this crime or any other to report it. To report crime in Cherokee County you can call the anonymous tip line at 828-837-1344 or email a tip at crime.tips@cherokeecounty-nc.gov or call 911 if you observe a crime in progress.

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