CMC committee: Personnel issues require more investigation
Commission accepts one recommendation, rejects another
A committee formed to try to heal a critical breach between health care providers and administration at Coulee Medical Center recommended hiring a consultant to investigate what the committee heard from staff and community members over the last five weeks.
Commissioners Jerry Kennedy and Kris Hare reported at a regular meeting Dec. 26 that many had shared concerns in confidence and were afraid to speak critically of administrators for fear of job consequences.
“Many of the personnel concerns expressed require additional investigation, more investigation than two commissioners have the time or expertise needed to research,” Kennedy said, reading from a prepared statement he said had been vetted by legal counsel “to make sure that things we said wouldn’t be damaging to anyone’s reputation.”
The report was delivered near the end of the meeting, after an executive session called to discuss personnel issues and consult with an attorney on possible litigation.
Even so, it seemed none of the standing-room-only crowd had dispersed by the time the open meeting resumed.
Several had made their views known during a public comment period in which applause followed every speaker who said their doctors should stay, but the administration could go.
“I just can’t imagine not keeping the personnel we have,” Betty Davis said. “Maybe we’re top heavy.”
“The administrator can go, I want our doctors to stay,” Carolyn Haven said.
Not all accepted that prevalent attitude.
Mike Bjorklund cited improving patient satisfaction surveys and a financial turnaround to contend that CEO Scott Graham was doing the job the commission selected him to do — lead and guide the hospital.
“Up to this point it doesn’t seem like there’s been anything that has led anybody to believe that he hasn’t been successful in that role,” he said.
Bjorklund didn’t name him, but was also critical of Dr. Jacob Chaffee’s public airing of his criticisms of administration in a Star interview, calling it “bullying” and “irresponsible.”
Several urged the commission to re-open communications between the two sides.
“It doesn’t matter who leaves and who stays,” Tim Campbell said. “If they can’t talk, they’re not going to fix their problems. And the board should hold them accountable to sit down and figure this out, and us as the public hold you guys accountable to make that happen.”
The personnel committee recommended the commission take four steps:
“1. Have the committee formed 11/18/13 continue as a full personnel committee intended to work toward resolution of personnel issues.
“2. Authorize the committee to engage or authorize the engagement of consultants to help investigate and make recommendations on how to resolve these personnel concerns.
“3. Require that CMC staff cooperate with personnel committee investigations.
“4. Confirm that staff providing information to the Personnel Committee or Board will not be retaliated against for doing so.”
The commissioners voted unanimously to accept the committee’s recommendation.
But the commission divided over another issue.
To address public complaints about stopping a popular discounted lab test week, commissioners Kennedy and Geary Oliver had served as a committee to look into obtaining independent legal counsel for the board to get a second opinion on the matter.
Instead, they recommended a complete change to a Spokane firm already familiar with CMC, retaining the current firm for more specialized legal needs.
Kennedy reported that the recommended lawyer charged $200 an hour, while the Seattle-based current counsel charges $500, resulting in a $25,000 bill for October alone.
Commission President Greg Behrens was adamantly opposed to that, citing ongoing issues that Foster Pepper, the current firm, is working on. He argued the idea could be revisited in three months, but an immediate change would cost the district a lot.
Kennedy said it would not present a problem, but would be very good for the district.
Kennedy and Oliver voted for the move. Behrens and Hare voted against it.
Graham reported that the hospital had made a financial gain in November of more than $90,000, bringing a year-to-date loss down to $18,000, a figure that had reached about $400,000 in June.
CMC Financial Statements November, 2013