News

Hospital board asks candidate to withdraw

In an unusual development in a local political race, Peter Borden, president of the Whidbey General Hospital board, has asked Doctor Paul Zaveruha to withdraw from the hospital commissioner’s race.

In asking Zaveruha to withdraw, Borden cited a perceived conflict of interest, as Zaveruha, if elected, would be a hospital employee serving on the governing board.

“Please consider removing yourself as a candidate at this time in order to eliminate all possible conflicts of interest, and help us make the board transition a positive one,” states the letter signed from Borden and apparently supported by the rest of the board.

Should he be elected as a commissioner, Zaveruha could face the possibility of being terminated from his position as Emergency Services Director at Whidbey General Hospital.

“The position is, they put my professional career in jeopardy with my running for public office,” said Zaveruha Tuesday afternoon, adding that before filing he checked with local and state offices to see if it was appropriate to run for office.

He said he was told it was OK to run for office as long as he recuses himself from any action that affects emergency services or his medical practice.

Zaveruha said his name will remain on the ballot despite Borden’s concerns with a conflict of interest.

Borden said “it looks like a conflict with state statute,” during a Tuesday morning interview. “We’re also concerned with the appearance of a conflict of interest,” he added.

Zaveruha’s positions as Emergency Services Director and a surgeon are incompatible with the requirements of a hospital commissioner, according to the letter Borden addressed to Zaveruha.

Zaveruha’s position as a board member would allow him to make decisions about his own contract and those of his competitors. He would also be able to make decisions that could have an economic impact on his medical practice and those of his competitors, according to the letter.

Although the letter states that no action needs to be taken until the results of the election are known, it also states, “If you are elected and choose to take office, we (the board) will be required to take action to address any potential conflicts of interest at that time. At a minimum, we would be required to terminate your medical directorship agreement. We may also be required to take action with respect to your medical staff membership and privileges.”

Borden didn’t know exactly what kind of action against Zaveruha’s privileges is needed and added that it was a concern brought forth by the hospital’s legal counsel.

Zaveruha said he’s going to wait and see if the board was trying to intimidate him through the letter or if it is serious about terminating him.

Zaveruha, who has worked for Emergency Services for 15 years, decided to run for the commissioner position after seeing the hospital in the red for the past five years. He is seeking the position being vacated by Borden. Borden had filed to run again, but withdrew after Zaveruha filed.

Zaveruha described the hospital’s financial difficulties as a “serious deficiency” considering that nearby Island Hospital in Anacortes is moving in a “positive direction.”

Island County Auditor Suzanne Sinclair said it’s tough to comment on the hospital commissioner situation because the conflict of interest concept is not easily defined and there are a lot of different ways, such as recusing from a vote, to deal with such issues.

Assistant Director of Elections for the Washington Secretary of State’s office, John Pearson, said conflicts of interest are normally decided on a case-by-case basis.

He added that Zaveruha could clearly run for office, but whether he loses his position as a result of being elected would be an employment issue rather than an election issue.

Should Zaveruha withdraw from the election, Amy Ayers would run for the commissioner’s position uncontested.

After he filed for the election, the hospital board met with its lawyers during an executive session at the Aug. 11 commissioners meeting. Zaveruha received the letter last Tuesday.

“They anticipated there might be a conflict,” said Trish Rose, spokesperson for Whidbey General Hospital.

The hospital’s attorney, Brad Berg, advised that Zaveruha’s election would likely violate the state’s conflict of interest statute that states a municipal officer can’t have a beneficial interest in contracts that are made by, or through, their supervision, according to the letter.

You can reach News-Times reporter Nathan Whalen at nwhalen@whidbeynewstimes.com or 675-6611.

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