Coast Hospital Ignores Complaints

by Malcolm Macdonald, August 16, 2017

Here's your headline: With a lone exception, the Mendocino Coast District Hospital Board of Directors has decided to ignore a growing list of seemingly valid complaints from a number of hospital staff members because they (the board members) are afraid of the potential upheaval, economic and otherwise, that might occur as a result of removing the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer, who are the subjects of the complaints. This will be repeated for you later, so readers can grasp the context of events as they have played out this year.

Here's what the general public has seen: Early in July a standing room only crowd filled Fort Bragg's Town Hall to speak out against a possible closure of the obstetrics (OB) department at Mendocino Coast District Hospital (MCDH). At the end of July approximately thirty-five coastal folk showed up at a MCDH Board of Directors meeting when a parcel tax measure for this November's ballot was rushed onto the agenda by board member, Dr. Kevin Miller. These two issues, though valid long term concerns, have effectively served as smoke screens disguising deeper problems within MCDH's administration and its board of directors.

The late July MCDH Board meeting was instructive on another point besides OB or parcel taxes, that being the exodus of citizenry from the meeting after the board voted to hold off on a parcel tax measure until next year. The vast majority of Mendocino Coast Healthcare District voters and taxpayers are generally too busy to attend two hour board meetings. As a result that board and the hospital's chief administators have pretty much taken for granted that they can do whatever they want without question from the public.

So readers, here's your chance to ask some serious questions of the powers that be at the coast hospital without getting out of your chair. This article will provide you with a synopsis of background information for each question and the emails of the appropriate figures to send your questions to. It is one thing for the AVA to print these, and related, questions over and over. Elected officials, committee members and administators often don't take note until they read something directly from members of the voting public.

First: On March 16th of this year, the MCDH Board finished up a closed session regarding the job performance review of Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Wade Sturgeon with a promise to conduct more interviews with hospital staff. These interviews never took place. Readers should ask each member of the board (President Steve Lund, Kitty Bruning, Dr. Peter Glusker, Dr. Lucas Campos, and Dr. Kevin Miller) why they did not keep their promise to the public and the hospital staff to hold further interviews concerning the CFO's job performance. Email Steve Lund at: slund@mcdh.net; Kitty Bruning: kbruning@mcdh.net; Dr. Glusker: pglusker@mcdh.net; Dr. Campos: lcampos@mcdh.net; and Dr. Miller: kmiller@mcdh.net.

Some of the negative aspects of CFO Sturgeon's job performance were related to a harassment complaint made against him by the Chief Human Resources (HR) officer at the hospital. At the time of the March 16th closed session the HR chief was on administrative leave, as a result of the harassment complaint against CFO Sturgeon. Creditable reports indicate that on or about March 18th, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Bob Edwards mailed a termination letter to the HR Chief. If the performance review of Sturgeon was still on hold as of March 16th, largely predicated on the complaint against him by the chief HR officer, why did the CEO attempt to fire that HR Chief on March 18th? CEO Edwards can be reached via email at: bedwards@mcdh.net. A follow-up question to each board member would be something along these lines: Why did you allow the CEO to undercut the board's decision to conduct further interviews with hospital staff regarding the HR chief's harassment complaint and how it related to CFO Sturgeon's job performance review?

Ask Board President Lund (slund@mcdh.net) why he confronted an MCDH employee in her office one day after the March 16th closed session? Ask him if he thinks this is an acceptable way to conduct staff interviews. Background: This was another employee who had filed a harassment complaint against CFO Sturgeon. Ask the other MCDH Board members if they think it is appropriate for individual board members to confront hospital staff in the workplace while job performance reviews or harassment complaints are ongoing?

Ask board member Miller why he questioned an employee, more than once, on hospital grounds during the days leading up to the March 16th closed session regarding CFO Sturgeon's job performance. Perhaps more importantly, ask Dr. Miller why he told the employee that MCDH could not survive an administrative turnover. Meaning the dismissal of Edwards and Sturgeon.

The implication here is that Miller, and apparently the rest of the board (with the exception of Dr. Glusker) have decided to ignore a growing list of seemingly valid complaints from a number of hospital staff members because they (the board members) are afraid of the potential upheaval, economic and otherwise, that might occur as a result of removing the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer, who are the subjects of the complaints. In street parlance, these board members have allowed Edwards to throw several hospital staffers, from the manager level on down, under the bus to protect Edwards and Sturgeon.

In the fall of 2016 CFO Sturgeon downplayed the seriousness of billing and coding errors made by the newly contracted Emergency Room provider, EmCare, in official monthly report after report to the hospital's Board of Directors and its Finance Committee. In addition, both the CFO and the CEO ignored internal warnings to add employees to sort out the billing and coding mess. The question to ask CFO Sturgeon (wsturgeon@mcdh.net): Why did you conceal the seriousness of EmCare's coding and billing mistakes for so many months? Ask CEO Edwards (bedwards@mcdh.net): Why did you abet Sturgeon in this coverup and why didn't you act in a more timely fashion to fix the problem?

Readers may want to ask MCDH Board members and its Finance Committee members (John Allison: jrallison27@gmail.com; Kirk O'Day: kirko@mcn.org; and Dr. Campos) why they haven't offered up any significant questions concerning this problem? Finance Committee members should be asked why they didn't do more investigating of this matter and/or why they didn't report this problem to MCDH's Board.

If you want an issue that involves OB, ask CEO Edwards or CFO Sturgeon why they have frequently quoted a million dollar annual loss to the hospital due to OB services, but both flatly refuse to give any comparative profit or loss numbers for the new ER service from EmCare, the new orthopedic surgeon, or the pain management program that came on line last year. Ask them to give you specific positive or negative dollar amounts for each of those services.

Ask the MCDH Board members and the CEO to explain this to you: When the CFO was accused of workplace harassment, why was the victim of the harassment placed on administrative leave instead of the accused CFO?

Also ask board members: Does MCDH have a clear written policy regarding whether the accuser or accused in harassment cases is placed on leave?

In May the CEO placed the Chief of Patient Care Services on leave, pending an investigation. Ask Mr. Edwards (bedwards@mcdh.net): What specifically was he investigating? He subsequently fired her, apparently because she was a friend of the Human Resources Chief.

Ask the four members of the board (Lund: slund@mcdh.net; Bruning: kbruning@mcdh.net; Miller: kmiller@mcdh.net; and Campos: lcampos@mcdh.net) who were present at an April 1, 2017 Board of Directors meeting, which was not properly noticed to the public, why they went forward with that meeting after they were told that doing so would violate the Brown Act (CA Government Code 54956).

There are many other questions that can be posed to the MCDH Board and its administrators beyond just these, but we can save those for later, if necessary.

One Response to Coast Hospital Ignores Complaints

  1. Frank Casian Reply

    August 17, 2017 at 7:09 am

    Great article Malcolm.
    Thanks for being heads up on these issues.
    It seems, some of the same over at Coast Clinics
    ????
    Let ‘er RIP Amigo!

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