Ellis Hospital will spend a total of $5.6 million to relocate and rename its nursing school as well as establish a new fund to benefit it as part of settlement agreement with the state Attorney General’s Office, which investigated after a family sued the hospital for not following the wishes of a $2.3 million bequest.
The bequest came from John W. Belanger, who left 75 percent of his estate to the hospital upon his death in 1968. Belanger was a General Electric employee and served on Ellis Hospital’s board of trustees from 1953 to 1967. Belanger’s wife, Anna Nordgren Belanger, died the following year and also left 75 percent of her estate to the hospital.
The money was bequeathed with the stipulation that it be used for the hospital’s school of nursing. This was an effort to honor Belanger’s younger sister, Lurline Belanger Cummings, who had attended a nurse training school in Maine.
Norma Cummings Lyons, niece of John Belanger and daughter of Lurline Belanger Cummings, filed a federal lawsuit against Ellis Hospital in 2008 alleging misuse of the bequest. The suit was dismissed in 2009, but not before Lyons alerted the Attorney General’s Office, which then conducted an investigation of the hospital and negotiated a settlement between the parties.
The state investigation determined that starting in 1970 and continuing until at least 1998, the hospital repeatedly appropriated and expended the income and appreciation of the Belanger Fund for general hospital purposes unrelated to improving the facility of the nursing school.
The settlement agreement requires Ellis Hospital to spend $3.1 million toward the purchase of the Health Services Building on its McClellan Campus, which Ellis currently leases, and relocate its nursing school to the building. Much of the $3.1 million will come from the remaining money in the Belanger Fund, valued earlier this year at $2.9 million.
The new nursing school will be renamed the Belanger School of Nursing. Ellis has agreed to contribute an additional $2.5 million to establish a new fund for the benefit of the nursing school, to be known as “School of Nursing New Fund.” Ellis will also be required to issue reports to the attorney general demonstrating its compliance with the settlement until 2016.
The settlement agreement was reached in April but neither the attorney general nor Ellis Hospital publicized the agreement. Attorney Robert Altman, representing Lyons, disclosed the details of the agreement in a news release Friday.
In the news release, Lyons commented on the agreement:
“I am pleased that this misuse of charitable funds has finally been corrected. I brought this to the hospital’s attention in the mid-1990s, and after its misuse was pointed out, the hospital did not see fit to correct it. It was particularly distressing to me, since my uncle made this bequest to honor my mother,” she stated. “I have never sought the money for my personal gain. It is disappointing that the family needed to spend in excess of $200,000 to force the hospital to comply with a very simple bequest, and the hospital has refused to even discuss reimbursement of that money. It is also disappointing that the hospital continues to be uncooperative and negative with the family merely because we brought their transgression to their attention first, and then, receiving no satisfaction, to the Attorney General’s Office, which acted and imposed a settlement upon Ellis Hospital.”
Ellis hospital spokeswoman Donna Evans said the hospital has attempted to meet with Lyons to discuss this matter.
“It’s sad that she feels that way. We recently reached out to her to set up a meeting and that offer was not accepted,” Evans said.
In a news release, Cristine Cioffi, chairwoman of the Ellis Medicine Board of Trustees, thanked the Belanger family for the bequest.
“Ellis is grateful for the tremendous generosity of John and Anna Belanger, and we are pleased to sustain their legacy through the future use of their bequest,” she stated. “Their support for nursing care will continue to live on through the contributions of both the Belanger School of Nursing and future generations of its graduates.”
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