Coast Hospital Digs Itself in Deeper
by Malcolm Macdonald, June 21, 2017
Credit Where Credit’s Not Due
At a June 13th special meeting of the Mendocino Coast Hospital (MCDH) Board of Directors, Chair Steve Lund reported out of a 40 minute closed session, “After careful deliberation of this matter, including a thorough, confidential investigation conducted by an outside, independent law firm, the Board of Directors has determined, by a four to one vote, of the members present, per its investigation of this matter, to retain the CFO [Chief Financial Officer Wade Sturgeon] in his present position in accordance with his current contract.”
Lund's statement appeared to be read from a typed sheet of paper. There were no computers or printers present in the Redwood Room of MCDH where the meeting was held, so this observer had to wonder how Lund knew what to type on the paper before the meeting began. Unless there was an alternative page that replaced “to retain” with “not to retain,” this procedure indicates that the closed session itself was something of a farce, that a majority of the MCDH Board had decided outside of the closed session setting to retain Sturgeon. Such an action, of course, would be a grievous violation of the Brown Act.
Violating the Brown Act is nothing new for the majority of this particular MCDH Board of Directors. They held another special board meeting at 8 a.m. April 1st (no joke) without fulfilling the legal requirement of 24 hours notice to the public and press. That meeting went forward with four Board members present even though the MCDH Board was apprised of the potential violation at the outset of the meeting. Readers should note that the one board member who voted against retaining CFO Sturgeon was Dr. Peter Glusker. He was also the only board member who skipped the April 1st get-together. During that meeting new board member Dr. Lucas Campos yucked it up while he, Chair Lund, and MCDH Board legal counsel John Ruprecht made snide comments regsarding Dr. Glusker's failure to go along with their concept of what the board should be doing. In addition, Dr. Campos made clear his disdain for members of the public asking questions during board or committee meetings. Campos expressed the belief that members of the public (presumably including the press) should write out and submit all questions before meetings commence. This sort of blatant disregard for public input, by Dr. Campos, is an infringement on the basic tenets of the Brown Act. To further demonstrate his position, Campos refused all public comment or questions on agenda items at the April and May, 2017, Finance Committee meetings until after the agenda items were already voted on.
That ill-noticed April Fool's meeting also saw Dr. Kevin Miller ask Board Chair Lund how he (Miller) could get a specific item on the agenda. Once it became clear the item Miller wanted was an up or down vote on closing the obstetrics (OB) department at MCDH, Lund obfuscated just enough to apparently put the idea off to the back burner.
Apparently Dr. Miller has reached to the back of the stove and insisted on the closure of OB vote to occur at the board's regular June meeting, which will take place, June 22nd, at Fort Bragg's Town Hall at 6pm. It seems unlikely that a majority of the MCDH Board of Directors will vote to close OB at that time. Funding for the department is included in the budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.
More important is the ongoing negotiation between Mendocino Coast Clinics (MCC) and the hospital. MCC is offering to recruit and hire a second OB/GYN for the area, but MCC wants MCDH to formally commit to keeping the OB Dept. open for at least the next three years.
On the topic of budgets, the MCDH Board approved that 2017/2018 budget along with a capital budget for the same time period, and beyond, by identical 4-1 votes. Dr. Glusker dissented on each. The hospital budget predicts an approximate $800,000 shortfall for the coming year while the proposed capital budgets for the next two years list nearly $20 million in potential maintenance expenditures. Keep in mind that nowhere near all the capital maintenance projects will even get into the planning stages right away. However, many of these will eventually be mandated in order for the hospital to retain its certification. Putting off some of these repair/replace projects is not practically feasible because there are a number of pieces of equipment within the hospital that are on the verge of breaking down any day. MCDH is in the process of receiving a HELP II loan of $1.5 million from the state that will pay for much of the work on the hospital's automatic transfer switch (ATS-keeps power going in case of an electric outage), central sterile updates, and the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system. But those are just the tip of the iceberg in needed maintenance work. Note that further loans to fund such costly repairs slide right into the doubtful column since Cal-Mortgage owns all of the equipment and property at the hospital as a result of MCDH's 2012-2015 bankruptcy.
With all that in mind readers may understand when Dr. Glusker explained his negative votes on the budgets by saying that it is his practical and fiduciary responsibilty to oppose budgets that operate at a deficit, especially at a hospital district that has maxed out in debt and has no available credit. The vote on the capital budget, in which Glusker was the lone dissenting voice, took place without so much as a glance at, let alone discussion of, the 2018/2019 maintenance expenditures. Those potential repair and/or replace projects account for almost $9.2 million. Nearly 90% of those projects will eventually be required by California's Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD).
In a way the budget and OB issues provide something of an ongoing smokescreen for CEO Edwards and CFO Sturgeon. While OB is the hot button emotional and political topic of the day new questions arise, and some old questions remain unanswered, regarding the administration and the Board of Directors at MCDH, beyond those discussed above. Those include: Part of the Chair's wording at the conclusion of the CFO performance review stated, “After careful deliberation of this matter, including a thorough, confidential investigation conducted by an outside, independent law firm...” It is this writer's understanding that the outside investigation was concluded early in 2017, yet there were performance review hearings concerning the CFO that continued into March as well as at the meeting Tuesday, June 13th. How can the investigation be categorized as “thorough” if further meetings were needed months later?
At the end of the March closed session regarding the CFO's performance review, the Board chair stated that the Board would be conducting further interviews with MCDH staff before rendering any decision on the CFO's performance. There appears to be no evidence of further interviews with MCDH staff. How does the Board expect the public to trust its June decision about the CFO when the Board has clearly failed to perform what it promised the public in March?
In addition, much of the CFO's performance review was predicated on an investigation into harassment charges made against the CFO by Ellen Hardin, the former Chief Human Resources Officer. It is alleged that a letter was sent to Ms. Hardin just two days after the March 16th closed session. The letter essentially asked her to sign off on an employment termination. Was such a letter sent to Ms. Hardin at or near the time described? If so, why should the public place trust in this Board if that Board tells the public one thing, then follows up with a completely contradictory action?
Since Ms. Hardin was placed on administrative leave, her assistant has been fired by the CEO, the Quality Risk manager has left MCDH essentially because she had ethical differences with the CEO and CFO, and the Chief of Patient Services has been placed on administrative leave. There's at least one other woman at the hospital who is at risk of termination at the CEO's whim. There's a pattern here: all of the above are women. Those I have had any association with might be characterized as strong-minded. Does the CEO have a fear of strong minded or strong willed women professionals?
Given that the Board on June 13th, by a 4-1 vote, with Dr. Glusker dissenting, affirmed the CFO's position, is Terry Murphy, the Chief of Patient Services the next one to go from administrative leave to termination? Would Mr. Edwards care to tell the public whether Ms. Murphy is the next strong-minded professional to get the axe under his brand of leadership?
When the CFO was accused of workplace harassment, why was the victim of the harassment 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?
Given that the most likely reason the CEO placed Terry Murphy on administrative leave is a suspicion that Ms. Murphy is a friend of Ellen Hardin, the former Chief Human Resources Officer, CEO Edwards's actions regarding Ms. Murphy appear not to be founded upon facts, but rather his own paranoia. When will this Board conduct an investigation of Mr. Edwards's actions in regard to Ms. Murphy, Ms. Hardin, and other employees, past and present at this hospital?
There are also allegations that the CEO has in effect been an enabler of the CFO, essentially ignoring serious complaints directed at the CFO and participating in coercive actions, including behavior aimed at humiliating accusers. Will this Board fully investigate this aspect of the current administration at MCDH?
Are the Directors aware that a significant number of hospital employees, from manager level on down, are on the side of the former Human Resources Chief?
Many employees believe in the former Human Resources Chief, and, though relatively silent in public, are hoping that they will not have to continue working with the current CFO, or CEO for that matter. Given that the Board refused to conduct the further interviews it promised in March, the logical conclusion to be drawn is that this Board chooses to ignore its rank and file employees as much as possible.
What was the cost of hiring an outside law firm to investigate matters related to the CFO's performance?
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?
The four members of the board present at the April 1, 2017 meeting, which was not properly noticed to the public, need to acknowledge their violation of the Brown Act (CA Government Code 54956) and move forward, endeavoring to avoid further failures to sufficiently notice Special Board meetings at least 24 hours in advance. Otherwise, those Directors look like hypocrites, especially in light of their censure of another board member for a violation of the Brown Act.