Coast Hospital: Questions Remain
by Malcolm Macdonald, May 31, 2017
Try to find the office of Mendocino Coast District Hospital's (MCDH) Chief Executive Officer, Bob Edwards. If you don't work there, and possibly if you do, it is a hard place to locate, tucked away in a corner of the facility with no label whatsoever on the door. Nothing. No sign with 'CEO' or Edwards's name printed on it. Get the idea the guy doesn't want to be found?
On May 19th Edwards informed the surviving department managers at MCDH that Terry Murphy, the chief of patient care services had been placed on administrative leave, pending an investigation. The first question that comes to mind: investigation of what? Though Murphy may not have the best bedside manner (she is a longtime RN) or cuddly people skills, she gets to work early, does her job, stays late when needed, goes home, then gets up and does her job again the next day. Murphy is nearing retirement, but apparently puts in as many hours as just about anyone at MCDH.
So, what has she done wrong? Apparently the answer rests in the simple fact that Murphy is friendly with Ellen Hardin, the former Chief of Human Resources at MCDH. CEO Edwards placed Hardin on administrative leave near the end of 2016, essentially for having the temerity to accuse the hospital's Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Wade Sturgeon, of workplace harassment. Ms. Hardin's accusation may have included Edwards as well, though the record isn't clear.
In the eyes of Edwards, anyone close to Ms. Hardin is automatically suspect. He got rid of Ms. Hardin's assistant a few months back, most likely because Edwards suspected that person of leaking information to the press. For my part, I wouldn't recognize Hardin's assistant from anyone else at MCDH or anyone on the street. As far as Ms. Murphy leaking information, the only time I asked Murphy for a minute of her time to answer a question after a board meeting she replied brusquely, “No.” I have had one semi-private conversation with her, but the only details forthcoming from that coincidental encounter amounted to information about family matters.
Ms. Hardin's administrative leave has apparently turned into a lawsuit against the hospital. Mr. Edwards paranoic pattern of getting rid of anyone who dares to question him or is seemingly close to that questioner (Hardin's assistant and now Ms. Murphy) doesn't seem to bother the majority of the MCDH Board of Directors. The one exception among board members is Dr. Peter Glusker, whose words and actions make it clear he regrets the hiring of Edwards more than two years ago (April, 2015).
The rest of the MCDH Board doesn't appear to be in any hurry to don their thinking caps and see Edwards for what he is, an administrator who has lost the confidence of a majority of those who work at the hospital. They are also not quick to act nor clarify matters for the public. Case in point: The closed session performance review hearing for CFO Sturgeon concluded in mid-March with a report that the Board would be conducting further interviews regarding the matter (which largely boils down to Ms. Hardin's charges against Sturgeon). In more than two months time there have been no further closed sessions on the matter and not one word of public clarification, not even something to the effect that 'due to legal proceedings our counsel has requested that we (the Board) make no further comment.'
Meanwhile some of Edwards's mentality had rubbed off onto Dr. Lucas Campos. At the April and May Finance Committee meetings, which Campos has chaired since his November election, the pain management physician has imposed a procedure forbidding all public input on agenda items. California Government Code 54954.3(a) states, “Every agenda for regular meetings shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the legislative body on any item of interest to the public, before or during the legislative body's consideration of the item...”
Finally, at the MCDH Board meeting of May 26th, Campos grudgingly acknowledged that public input should be allowed. However, Campos, MCDH Board Chair Steve Lund as well as Board members Kitty Bruning and Dr. Kevin Miller all went forward with an April 1st Special Board meeting that was not properly noticed to the public. These four MCDH Board members have, to this date, not acknowledged this violation of the Brown Act, which makes the four of them look like hypocrites given that they voted to censure Dr. Glusker for a Brown Act violation earlier in 2017.
It was at that April Fools meeting that Dr. Miller asked that the closure of the obstetrics (OB) department be placed on the next Board meeting agenda for an up or down vote. That vote has not yet been agendized and at the May 26th Board meeting the approval of a three-year agreement between the hospital and Mendocino Coast Clinics, providing for on call OB and pediatrics, has abated the situation for the near future.
Those present at the late May Finance Committee were privy to a report on capital maintenance projects that MCDH needs to undertake in the next two fiscal years. Those capital maintenance updates and repairs add up to a total cost of more than $19 million by this time in 2019. A great number of them are mandated by the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD). In other words most of the expenditures must be made to keep the facility open. No specifics on these new projects were given at the Board meeting. Besides obvious matters like completing the Nurse Call and Automatic Transfer Switch systems that have been referenced in previous AVA articles, the 2017-2018 OSHPD required projects includes repairs to the hospital's main parking lot estimated to cost a million dollars.
In March and April this writer has posed additional questions, beyond those addressed above, to the MCDH Board of Directors. Many of those questions remain unanswered or unresolved, including: Is it true that harassment charges have been filed against MCDH's Chief Executive Officer (CEO) as well as the CFO?.
Is it true that an harassment charge has been filed against the MCDH Board Chair?
Is it true that an harassment charge has been filed against another MCDH Board member?
According to reasonable accounts, the answer to all those “Is it true” questions is yes. The allegations concerning the Board members relate to accusations of coercive behavior directed at employees below the administrative level. As of the last days of May there have been no closed session matters regarding the additional harassment complaints.
Further queries that have not been addressed: Has the MCDH Board of Directors hired any outside investigative services concerning the CFO's performance or the personnel complaint that is ongoing? If so, at what cost to MCDH? The likely answer to the first part of the question is “yes,” but there has been no public acknowledgment of the costs.
When the CFO was accused of workplace harassment, why was the alleged victim of the harassment (the Human Resources Chief) placed on administrative leave instead of the accused CFO?
Does MCDH have a clear written policy regarding whether the accuser or accused in harassment cases is placed on leave? Is there a policy that allows for both to be placed on leave?
Some of these matters involve personnel matters that cannot initially be made public, but some are matters that the present majority on the Board at MCDH refuses to respond to. Their hear no evil, see no evil behavior should be remembered the next time they come up for election and the next time they call on the public to further its financial support of this institution.