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Former Monsour board called out

| Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

Two state lawmakers say it's time for former board members at the now-shuttered Monsour Medical Center to step up and take responsibility before someone is injured or killed in the trash-filled, decaying structure.

An angry Sen. Kim Ward said on Monday she wants the former directors to walk through the condemned building in Jeannette to view the myriad dangers it poses to the public.

“Let's bring the board of directors to the site and see if they'd walk into the building to see if it's safe,” she said. “People just can't walk away. There's no one being held accountable.”

The Hempfield Republican said the directors need to see the damage caused by vagrants and arsonists and the buckling walls and crumbling floors officials fear may one day cause the entire building to collapse, possibly onto congested Route 30.

Ward said she contacted the most recent board president, William Raber of Venetia, Washington County, by phone and mail to invite him to tour the structure. She had not received a response as of Monday afternoon.

Raber also did not respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, state Rep. George Dunbar, R-Penn Township, wants the city to cite the former directors for code violations for walking away from the struggling hospital.

“I think the best way is to go after the board of directors. We should send them letters warning them and cite them for the violations,” Dunbar said.

The identities of the directors — other than Raber — remain sketchy to everyone involved, city officials included, because of the chaos that ensued when the hospital closed in 2006 in the aftermath of a series of failed inspections and years spent mired in financial difficulties.

Like Ward and Dunbar, city Solicitor Scott Avolio believes the nonprofit's board is still responsible.

“Those directors, in essence, are the owners,” Avolio said. “The directors have liabilities.”

Avolio said he'll scour records dating to the 1990s in Westmoreland County Orphans Court to find the names of those directors.

Avolio is asking the state attorney general to investigate the directors for violating the state Purely Public Charities Act, which requires the transfer of the assets of a closing nonprofit to another nonprofit under the guidance of a county court. The act also requires nonprofits to file articles of dissolution with the court, which did not happen at Monsour, Avolio said.

When the hospital closed, the directors and administrators simply walked away from the operation, leaving behind records, furniture, medical equipment and other items, Avolio said.

Doug Branson, at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Law, said holding the board members responsible for the facility is a “crap shoot,” but one worth taking.

He said the state Attorney General's Office could file suit against the board members to tap into the former board's liability insurance, which could be used for the cleanup. Branson said that if board members no longer carry insurance, it would be more difficult to have a court order them to pay damages.

John Skiavo, president and CEO of the Economic Growth Connection of Westmoreland, a private, nonprofit economic development corporation that has dealt with abandoned buildings in Jeannette and Derry Township, said he believes trying to hold former directors responsible would be difficult.

Because there are no shareholders in a nonprofit, the former directors could reconvene and vote to file bankruptcy, which would end any responsibility they have, he said.

“They can walk away and therefore be free from any continuing responsibility,” Skiavo said. “The problem is left for municipal government.”

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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