Kadlec Regional Medical Center filed a lawsuit this week claiming that a federal agency has failed to produce public documents related to Kennewick General Hospital's attempt to seek financing for its proposed Southridge hospital.
In a complaint for injunctive relief, the Richland hospital is asking a federal judge to order the Department of Housing and Urban Development to produce documents the hospital claims the agency withheld.
"We asked for this information 19 months ago from the federal government," Kadlec officials said in a written statement to the Herald on Thursday. "We were repeatedly told by HUD they would provide it, and that has still not happened."
Most of the complaint revolves around Kadlec's attempts to obtain a letter from HUD to Joseph Marion, a financial consultant who worked with KGH on its exploration of using a HUD program to finance the Southridge project.
The letter was one of several documents the agency told Kadlec it wouldn't provide in response to an Oct. 14, 2009, request made under the Freedom of Information Act seeking all documents relating to KGH's request for financing.
Kadlec appealed that decision only for the Marion letter, although hospital officials told the Herald on Thursday that they didn't know what the letter contained.
The grounds for HUD's denial offers some tenuous clues.
A Sept. 22, 2010, letter from Carole W. Wilson, senior counsel for HUD's Office of General Counsel, responding to Kadlec's appeal and included in the court documents, said the Marion letter had been withheld under two legal exemptions -- making intra-agency memorandums exempt from public disclosure, with the opinions and recommendations of temporary consultants being included in that definition, and protecting "trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person [that is] privileged or confidential."
KGH CEO Glen Marshall said he didn't know what might be in the letter.
"I'm sure there were a lot of letters," he said. "I'm sure (Marion) got a lot of letters from us. I don't really know what it is."
Wilson in her letter sends the case back to HUD's FOIA division to evaluate whether a redacted version of the letter could be provided.
Kadlec contacted HUD eight times between Jan. 6 and April 1 of this year by letters, email and voice mail asking for the letter. HUD representatives responded Jan. 12 and March 4, saying they would "check the status" of the letter, and then April 1 saying the redacted letter would be provided.
Kadlec's complaint said the letter never came.
"We don't understand why this information between two public entities has not been provided," the hospital's statement said. "We're simply following through on our initial request from 19 months ago. It's unfortunate we have had to take this action to get HUD to comply with the Freedom of Information Act."
Kadlec also alleges in its complaint that there has been no response to public records requests for more documents related to KGH's efforts to seek HUD financing for Southridge made Aug. 24, 2010, and Jan. 6, 2011, other than a demand Feb. 24 that Kadlec pay $373.68 for copies of documents for the August request.
Kadlec paid the money but the records never came, court documents said.
KGH no longer is pursuing HUD financing, having abandoned that plan in January after being told HUD financing would be conditional on KGH building a smaller hospital and closing its existing Auburn Street building.
KGH plans to continue using Auburn Street for some medical services after Southridge opens. The hospital district instead is talking to private investors about providing the money needed to build the $112 million Southridge project.
"We are in active discussions with private sector companies that specialize in public-private partnerships to build and finance medical facilities," hospital spokeswoman Liz Syer told the Herald on Thursday.
"Our approach will allow us to build our Southridge project without additional tax dollars and give the citizens of the Tri-Cities the choice in health care that they have told us that they want. KGH needs a new hospital to continue to fulfill our mission to provide quality health care to our community as an independent public hospital district."