Hospital CFO Forces Manager To Quit

by Malcolm Macdonald, July 6, 2016

Sturgeon

Sturgeon

Wade Sturgeon, the Chief Financial Officer at Mendocino Coast District Hospital (MCDH) has allegedly insulted and demeaned a hospital employee to such a degree that the employee quit on June 7th. The employee was a department manager at MCDH with more than a dozen years on the job.

This might be considered an internal personnel matter if the descriptions of Mr. Sturgeon's intimidating and harassing behavior did not sound eerily similar to what happened at his most recent place of employment. That would be Bear Valley Community Healthcare District. Mr. Sturgeon apparently resigned from a chief financial officer (CFO) position there just last July (2015).

A search of a Big Bear Grizzly newspaper story from late July, leads to reporting on the Bear Valley Community Healthcare District's Board of Director's meeting of July 24, 2015. At that gathering the hospital district's board president read the following statement: “It has been determined that the CFO [Sturgeon] has violated a significant district policy and the board has authorized administration and counsel to take appropriate disciplinary action.”

The Big Bear Grizzly article goes on to explain, “In April district employees claimed workplace harassment by Sturgeon and human resources director Kathy Norris, who is currently on leave. A letter read by union steward Diane Lopez at the April 23 board meeting claimed Norris and Sturgeon were intimidating staff and creating a hostile environment. The letter stated that [the hospital's CEO] Randy Simmons supported the behavior, leaving staff members nowhere to turn for relief.”

Go back a couple months from there to an April 23, 2015 Bear Valley Community Healthcare District (BVCHD) board meeting attended by thirty or more hospital staffers. During the public comment section Diane Lopez read a letter of concern she claimed was authored on behalf of all the hospital's employees who were willing to risk their jobs despite fear of retaliation. In part the letter stated, “Staff is fearful and go home daily wondering if they will have a job to come back to.” Speaking specifically about CFO Sturgeon and the human resources director, the letter said they “continue to cause undue stress, by intimidating staff and creating a hostile environment.” The letter asked for a complete investigation, since the hospital's CEO had done nothing.

Follow Sturgeon's career back a bit further and one finds him at Klickitat Valley Health (KVH) in Goldendale, Washington, leaving his post as CFO in 2008 after three and a half years on the job. At the time the hospital's CEO commended Sturgeon's financial abilities, “Bottom line, Wade Sturgeon did a fine job at this hospital,” but added, “issues that were present had to do with personal relations.”

Summing up, the KVH CEO said about Sturgeon, “He didn't have the greatest of people skills. He had a way of upsetting people. In the long run it wore on people, and it wore on Wade.”

Sturgeon was hired as MCDH's CFO in September, 2015, less than two months after resigning at Bear Valley Community Healthcare District. Though the new Chief Financial Officer had only been on the job at MCDH for less than nine months, the department manager who resigned on June 7th stated that he was inundated with one demanding email after another until he couldn't take it any more.  In a personal encounter, earlier this year, the MCDH department manager reported that he was on the phone doing hospital business when Mr. Sturgeon entered his office. The business call apparently went on too long for Mr. Sturgeon's liking when, without any verbal warning, the CFO yanked the phone away from the department manager and slammed it down.

This sort of abusive behavior is indicative of an underlying contentious issue at MCDH. The problem is greater than just Sturgeon, involving the CEO, Bob Edwards, and administration in general. Several sources within MCDH have recounted stories best summed up as relating to negative morale within the rank and file of employees. The specifics of each story cannot be recounted at this time because employees fear retribution from administration. If that sounds familiar, scroll up a few paragraphs to the 2015 details about Bear Valley Community Healthcare District.

According to one source familiar with the situation, the circumstances surrounding Sturgeon's departure from Bear Valley Community Healthcare District were not brought up during an appearance before some of the members of MCDH's Finance Committee last September. Another source close to the Board of Directors stated that Sturgeon's hire as CFO was essentially a choice made by the CEO, Bob Edwards. The same source stated that MCDH's Board of Directors was given a relatively brief overview (approx. fifteen minutes) of Sturgeon's qualifications by Edwards before approving him for the CFO position. Three different MCDH Board members, from the time of Sturgeon's hiring, were contacted in preparation for this article. None of them indicated a knowledge of Sturgeon's Bear Valley situation at the time of his hiring at MCDH.

Who did know Sturgeon? If you put the names Wade Sturgeon and Bob Edwards into your computer's search engine the first things that pop up are notices about 2012 and 2013 receptions for something called the CHPAC Presidents' Club (California Hospital Association Political Action Committee). Bob Edwards was then CEO of Banner Lassen Medical Center in Susanville and Sturgeon was CEO of  Biggs-Gridley Memorial Hospital in Gridley. The 2013 CHPAC reception invitation lists Edwards and Sturgeon at the top of the host hospitals. Obviously, they knew each other. Who knows how much Edwards knew about Sturgeon's history at Bear Valley Community Healthcare District or Klickitat Valley Health. However, if one goes to the “Linked In” page for Bob Edwards, you'll find Wade Sturgeon listed as an endorser of MCDH's CEO along with others, including Ray Hino, the MCDH CEO immediately prior to the institution filing for bankruptcy protection. In short these CEOs and CFOs keep track of each other enough to provide mutual endorsements.

Attempts to contact Sturgeon and Edwards for reaction to this story before press time failed, in large part due to both taking long holiday weekends.

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