Exterior shot of Nashville General Hospital. (Photo: Nashville General.gov)
Nashville General Hospital’s oversight board meets Thursday to consider a pair of lobbying and public relations contracts involving a single firm that, together, add up to nearly half-a-million dollars a year — a significant expenditure for the cash-strapped public hospital, which in recent years has operated $7 million in the red.
Both contracts are with Community Health Marketing, a Nashville firm co-founded by former Metro Councilmember and state senate candidate Jerry Maynard and his sister, Misha Maynard.
Jerry Maynard has a long history of advocating for Nashville General, but has drawn scrutiny in the past over his financial dealings with the hospital.
In 2018, then-board members accused hospital officials of secretly entering into a $150,000 PR contract with Jerry Maynard while the institution’s finances faltered. The incident prompted a board vote to require review of any hospital contract of $50,000 or more.
This year’s contract process is drawing scrutiny, in part, because some board members were caught by surprise that the hospital was already contracting with the Maynard’s company, which is seeking a three-year contract renewal.
Board members have also asked about competitive bidding for the contract. Hospital staff have told them that no outside bidding was required for such contract extensions. State procurement rules, however, say contracts that have reached the ends of their terms must go through Metro Nashville’s public solicitation and vetting process.
The contract renewals under consideration are for ongoing work Community Health Marketing has been tasked to do in support of the city’s safety-net hospital, which has struggled to receive adequate funding while it continues to serve the city’s low-income patients, regardless of their ability to pay.
The hospital is at a critical juncture. It is seeking a new location, a move that will require significant resources and the backing of city officials, just as a looming election could usher in a new slate of local leaders, who hold power over its public funding. Its ability to successfully message the need for a new hospital to the public and elected leaders are critical to its goals.
At the Hospital Authority’s June meeting, a review of the contracts brought questions. One board member requested an accounting of what the hospital had gained from the contracts thus far, calling them an “extraordinary amount of money for what I see in the contracts.”
One board member pushed back against Nashville General Hospital CEO Joseph Webb’s explanation that “everything in healthcare is expensive,” saying PR and lobbying firms are not in the healthcare business.
Board members in an audio broadcast of the June 29 regularly-scheduled meeting did not identify themselves before speaking. A staff member, who also did not identify herself, told board members the contracts represented an approximately “$500 difference” from the prior contracts with the Maynards’ company.
The contracts, however, mark a $9,000 per month increase over the two expiring contracts, which pay Maynard’s company $30,000 per month.
The proposed three-year government relations contract extension with Community Health Marketing is set at $13,000 per month. A second community relations contract, which includes PR, marketing and community event responsibilities, is set at $26,000 per month, with a clause saying that any work beyond 36 hours per month may be billed at $160 per hour. The contract poses no ceiling on billable hours.
The expiring contracts, signed by Webb and Jerry Maynard in January 2021, pays the firm $10,000 per month for lobbying and $20,000 per month for community relations. Unlike the renewal currently before the board, neither of the 2021 contracts have clauses allow for open-ended billable hours.
Neither a staff spokesperson for Nashville General Hospital nor a designated spokesperson at Punching Nun Group, a public relations firm that does work for the hospital, have responded to multiple emailed questions and phone messages about the contracts left by the Lookout over the past month. None of the Hospital Authority board members responded to emailed questions.
Jerry Maynard, reached by phone Wednesday, declined to comment on the current or proposed new contract, saying it would be “disloyal to the client. I will not answer any questions regarding the scope of my work for them.” Maynard initially agreed to answer questions about his company in writing, but did not respond further. Misha Maynard also did not respond to a phone message.
Secretary of State records show that Community Health Marketing made its initial filing as a business entity in October 2018, with Jerry Maynard listed as the registered agent. It was dissolved as “inactive” in October 2020, yet entered a contract with the hospital in Jan. 1, 2021 that continues today, pending renewal by the board or termination. The records contain a separate listing for Community Health Marketing, with Misha Maynard listed as registered agent, in a new business filing entered June 5 of this year.
It remains unclear whether business registration information with the Secretary of State are an accurate reflection of the Community Health Group’s legal status as a business entity operating in Tennessee during its contract with the city’s public hospital.
In 2018, the former chair of the Nashville Hospital Authority accused hospital officials of paying Jerry Maynard secretly and without the board’s approval. Three former Nashville Hospital Authority board members told The Tennessean they were shocked to learn that the hospital had paid him $150,000 in a contract entered into without the board’s approval.
Jan Brandeis, the former chair, told the newspaper she had personally turned Jerry Maynard down for a job because the hospital was struggling to pay its bills. Hospital officials at the time denied they kept the board in the dark about the contract and contended there was no need for board approval.
Shortly afterwards, the board voted in favor of the new policy requiring their review of all hospital contracts over $50,000.
The Hospital Authority Board meets Thursday to vote on whether to approve the contracts. Board members have requested the Nashville General staff provide them with an accounting of the work Community Health Marketing has done thus far.
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