Emails among top administrators at St. Tammany Parish Hospital suggest that top brass there created a job especially for the brother of District Attorney Walter Reed, who has worked as a clerk there for nearly a decade at a salary they refuse to divulge.
Richard Reed recently resigned from his position, according to WVUE-TV and nola.com, which cited anonymous sources. Hospital administrators have been unwilling to discuss Richard Reed’s employment with The New Orleans Advocate, or to provide any records regarding it.
In one telling exchange in the emails — which were obtained and posted on the news organizations’ websites Wednesday — Vice President Jean Holtman asserts that the hospital should replace Richard Reed with a full-time employee, even though a half-time worker would be sufficient to cover the workload.
When Chief Financial Officer Tim Lessing asks her why, Holtman says that making the new hire full time would persuade the public that “Richard’s position was needed.”
In another email, Holtman writes that if the hospital doesn’t fill Reed’s job with a full-time employee, “I am concerned that it is more obvious that STPH made a position for Richard. This may not be the best light for our hospital to be seen in.”
Hospital officials have been secretive about Richard Reed’s employment there, declining to provide The New Orleans Advocate with any records or documents showing what he did, when he was hired or what his salary was. The newspaper filed a request last week for that information, which the hospital claims is not subject to Louisiana’s public records laws, even though the hospital is a public entity.
The newspaper also requested copies of the emails Wednesday but did not immediately receive a response.
While Richard Reed’s salary is still unknown, one of the emails posted by WVUE-TV and nola.com suggests that he was well paid, considering his duties. His hourly rate “was high due to his transfer from another position,” Holtman wrote.
Other emails indicate that Reed was moved to the mail room earlier this year after hospital officials tried to find a place where he could be useful. In February, Ron Scott, the hospital’s director of materials management, wrote to Lessing to ask whether there was “any word yet about Richard going to food service?”
Lessing replied that he “spoke with Kathy on Friday afternoon. She said the only thing he could do in dietary would be to roll silverware. Patti (Ellish, the hospital’s CEO) already told me that was not an option.”
Lessing concluded: “Put him in a corner somewhere till u and I meet to discuss further options.”
The hospital is run by an eight-member board. Six members are appointed by the Parish Council. One is elected from the hospital’s medical staff, and one, a nonvoting member, is appointed by the parish president.
Abita Springs Mayor Greg Lemons, who sits on the board, said he couldn’t comment on Richard Reed’s employment.
“That’s an administrative matter,” he said, referring a reporter to Ellish. “I don’t get involved in all that.”
Lemons added that until media reports revealed that Richard Reed worked for the hospital, he hadn’t known about it.
Messages left for the other board members were not returned. Ellish also did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Several Parish Council members whose districts overlap with the hospital’s service area offered unequivocal support to Ellish and the hospital board, but two of them said the matter needs some scrutiny.
“After I saw the emails, now I really have questions,” said Richard Tanner, the council’s vice chairman. “Was he working for the hospital or just being paid?”
Tanner cautioned that he wouldn’t make any judgments about the situation without talking to Ellish or other hospital administrators.
Similarly, Council Chairman Reid Falconer said he fully expects the hospital board to address any problems.
“They have an opportunity to take affirmative action and fix it,” he said. Falconer added that he had discussed the situation with other council members.
“We are watching it,” he said. “We have got to be thoughtful about this.”
The questions about Richard Reed’s employment at the hospital come as his brother, the district attorney, has been under intense media scrutiny for his financial dealings. Walter Reed recently gave up a deal with St. Tammany Parish Hospital that for years paid him $30,000 annually to advise the hospital’s board.
Ellish has said she believed Reed was doing the work for the hospital in his capacity as district attorney, but Reed said he was doing it as part of his private law practice.
As part of the arrangement, Reed would attend the hospital’s monthly board meetings, but he occasionally sent a subordinate, Assistant District Attorney Leo Hemelt. Reed has maintained that Hemelt also was attending as a private lawyer, but he has provided no documents showing that he paid Hemelt for his work — raising the possibility that Reed was profiting privately from the work of a subordinate whose salary was being paid by the public.
Reed’s hospital work is thought to be one focus of a federal grand jury that is investigating Reed’s business dealings. Hemelt is among those who have received a grand jury subpoena; multiple sources told The New Orleans Advocate that Hemelt was served that subpoena while vacationing recently in Florida.
After his role in Walter Reed’s hospital work became the subject of controversy, Hemelt notified the office that he planned to resign.
In a letter dated June 3, Hemelt said he intended to leave Aug. 1 if paperwork for his pension could be completed by then.