Step One: Sturgeon Resigns

by Malcolm Macdonald, November 22, 2017

Sturgeon

The result of a closed session meeting of the Mendocino Coast District Hospital Board of Directors on November 14th: Wade Sturgeon has resigned his post as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) at the hospital, effective December 1st.

The November 14th multi-hour closed session was a continuation of a gathering the previous Thursday, November 9th. Sturgeon had gained approval of the MCDH Board just last June despite workplace harassment complaints from multiple employees. However, a federal lawsuit filed in late September by the hospital's former chief human resources officer may have served as a harbinger of a reversal of fortune for the CFO. That federal suit named Sturgeon, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Bob Edwards, Board President Steve Lund, and MCDH as defendants in a filing that cited the False Claims Act. (See the October 25th edition of the AVA for more details about this case and what the False Claims Act entails.)

Sturgeon's dismissal means that at least two MCDH Board members have shifted their thinking away from an all out defense of the hospital's top two administrators. At the end of the November 9th closed session, Dr. Peter Glusker, who had previously stood out as the only board member questioning hospital administration, called for the termination of CEO Edwards as well. In addition, Glusker asked citizens who have concerns about Mr. Edwards' performance to send emails to all members of the board.

The November 14th meeting was also noteworthy for the defensive nature of public comments by three doctors on the MCDH staff. One of them, Dr. John Kermen, stated that the medical staff was fully in support of both Edwards and Sturgeon. Kermen also said that all the physicians at MCDH were supportive of the OB (obstetrics) Department. Of course, those words fly in the face of the fact that Dr. Kevin Miller, a board member, has publicly called for closing OB.

Equally disturbing were the words of Will Lee, director of medical staff services and Fort Bragg's Vice Mayor. Lee stated, “The misinformation that's spreading around this town that this hospital is suffering under this administration is just flat wrong. There's no distress in this hospital…”

Contrasted with Lee's description there are multiple MCDH employees out on stress leave, stress directly attributable to the behavior of Edwards and Sturgeon. In addition, a simple glance at recent board agendas discloses other employees filing complaints. The November 8th AVA piece by Cindy Richards, who worked under Sturgeon's direction, concludes with these words about the hospital's top two administrators, “These corrupt, contemptuous men are strutting around like saints begging for taxpayer subsidies claiming they’re necessary for the betterment of our community, while harassing, threatening, terminating and covering up unconscionable behavior.”

In her article Ms. Richards mentions attempting to schedule a meeting with Edwards last spring regarding some of her concerns, but never getting a response. In just the last few days at least two other employees have spoken to this writer about the same difficulty of pinning down Edwards.

Multiple employees have confirmed that Edwards has told groups of employees not to respond to the public or press when asked questions about the hospital. Some employees described meetings with Edwards as utterly lacking in collegiality or sharing of professional ideas about what's best for MCDH. To the contrary, these meetings were described as “Talked to” sessions: Only Edwards talks, everyone else is expected to listen to the gospel according to the CEO.

In addition to the federal case filed by the former HR Chief, another employee is planning to file a separate federal lawsuit against Edwards. The exact basis for such a suit is unknown at this time.

In other matters, multiple employees from the manager level on down have recounted anecdotal evidence about Edwards placing so much pressure on some managers that their behavior changed from pleasant to intimidating and harassing toward subordinates.

Then there is the case of the relatively new plant services manager at MCDH. This man had been in charge of getting several major maintenance projects on the track toward completion. As far as could be seen he approached such projects as the central sterile system, HVAC (heating ventilation, and air conditioning), and ATS (automatic transfer switch) in a gung ho and transparent manner. He had regained the trust of OSHPD (Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development) officials, a trust that had been lost by MCDH for several years.

It is unclear what the exact reasons were, but the plant services manager was recently sacked, more or less without warning. One evening he was presenting to the board in his usual efficient manner, the next day he was out. At that point Edwards apparently took away the man's right to use the same hospital car he'd driven to work that morning, so that he had to call friends to help transport his personal belongings.

The ramifications of Sturgeon's departure on the federal lawsuit that is already in the judicial pipeline remains to be seen. The most logical conclusion is that severing ties with the CFO, while one step in the right direction, is also something of an admission of guilt.

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