Grasping for a lifesaver before finding out why the boat is sinking.
Last fall, while campaigning, the majority of Mendocino Coast District Hospital (MCDH) Board of Directors candidates stressed buzz words like “transparency, collaboration, community input, supporting staff, answer community questions with clarity, honestly and not just with, “It’s complicated.”
These popular and populist promises are quickly disappearing in the rear-view mirror with some of the new MCDH Board members as they hit the road running. In the first two months they have fired the CEO and now appear to be barreling down the road to affiliation with another medical system, with a presentation at the February meeting by Jason Wells, President Adventist Health Howard Memorial and Adventist Health Ukiah Valley Hospitals. It’s unclear as to how this proposal made it to the podium without going to either the Finance or Planning Committees, although it appears it came out of discussions between Karen Arnold and Jessica Grinberg.
Confronting the tough financial problems at MCDH, as the hospital continues to operate in the red, is critical. Like the previous board, once again, it appears major decisions are happening behind closed sessions, with minimal reporting out, ignoring transparency and community input. The Brown Act was passed to assure public input and transparency with government and a limited scope of subjects are appropriate for closed sessions.
While injured President Karen Arnold was available on speakerphone at the February Board meeting, Vice President Jessica Grinberg facilitated the meeting and discussions. Leaping quickly into the “Hospital Affiliation” agenda item, Ms. Grinberg turned to John Redding for the Finance Committee’s input on the topic. Mr. Redding appeared surprised by this question and could only answer for himself, given this topic was not discussed at either the Finance Committee or Planning Committee meetings this month.
Mr. Redding also ran on the same issues of transparency, community input and especially financial stability, which he appears to be fulfilling. Responding, he recalled, that he ran for office planning on tackling financial issues with full battle gear on, to keep the hospital open and independent, while this conversation appears to be surrender without exploring any options. John said he was willing to look at affiliation as a potential strategy, although he thought it should be only one option that needs to include other systems as well, in the financial plan he intends to develop. He implied that moving quickly with affiliation, without a plan and exploring other options, was premature, by leasing out the hospital without fighting to keep it independent first.
Mr. Wells launched into an overview of the strengths the Adventist system could offer MCDH, minimizing previous coastal issues regarding women’s health, especially a woman’s right to choose and abortions. The Adventists’ are now affiliating with hospitals which also have employee unions. Last time MCDH went down the affiliation road with Adventists, it was rumored they passed on our hospital because it has an employees union, which makes one wonder if this presentation was an intimidation tactic with the current deadlock over labor negotiations. Abortions were also a hot topic then, although surgical abortions stopped while Bob Edwards was CEO.
The Board voted unanimously to study this affiliation proposal by an Ad Hoc Committee. Asked whether there would be a vote regarding Ad Hoc Committee members, Jessica replied, “No, I’m going to appoint them,” after which she appointed herself and Amy McColley as Board Members of the ad hoc committee. (Karen Arnold and Jessica Grinberg were the members who brought Affiliation forward with Jason Wells, not Amy McColley as previously reported.) John Redding abstained. We hope there are positions for public oversight on this committee at publicly accessible times and locations.
Transparency and community input appeared to take another hit as Carole White’s concerns were ignored, at both the Planning Committee and Board meetings. She reminded people that appointing new members had been using an inclusive process, although it is not written in stone with bylaws. Previously, people applied to join a committee, attended a meeting and generally gave a short presentation regarding their skills and interests in MCDH. While there were apparently two Planning Committee applicants, Jessica Grinberg, via emails to committee members, was going to move one applicant forward for membership, without either person attending a meeting or presenting themselves. While I am hopeful this new member will be a fabulous addition, it is disconcerting that Ms. Grinberg took this route when it would have been easy to follow the transparent and inclusive process. Regardless of qualifications, it is actions like this which alienate the public. If I had been that other candidate, I would be extremely angry and distrustful!! Fortunately, the Finance Committee followed the more inclusive and accepted practice with their new members. The vote to appoint Ms. Cecilia Jimenez to the Planning Committee was 4-1 with John Redding abstaining.
Promises of transparency, honestly answering questions clearly and community input were dashed when Myra Beals asked why previous CEO Wayne Allen and another familiar person were in the audience. All of them just stared at her and Amy finally said that they were going back into closed session. Since CEO interviews were on the closed session agenda, they could have just said they were doing that, especially since I do not think they reported out closed items at the beginning at the meeting, as required by the Brown Act. This should not be repeated, since it is a Brown Act violation.
We are concerned that Closed Session is again making all sorts of decisions behind closed doors, regardless of whether it is appropriate or not, without respecting the Brown Act. We realize this group is new, although several cited their leadership skills as a reason to elect them, and they need to get the training needed to be effective and follow the law. It does appear that the Association of California Healthcare Districts (ACHD) leadership training certificate Steve Lund proposed is vital, although that lengthy process may come too late to provide the experience, skills, transparency and accountability required to make MCDH healthy, keeping it open and independent!
This report was corrected in italics, with feedback from MCDH Board Member Amy McColley. We encourage people to provide feedback on our website so we can share your thoughts with the audience.