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Crowd questions hospital candidates

Ever since Whidbey General Hospital Emergency Medical Services Director Paul Zaveruha filed to run as hospital commissioner, people have been talking about the potential for a conflict of interest.

On Monday evening, Zaveruha and his opponent in the commissioner race, Amy Ayers, had the chance to talk about issues facing the hospital during a candidates forum sponsored by the Whidbey Island League of Women Voters.

Zaveruha also took the opportunity to quell concerns about the potential conflict and his intentions.

“I have invested the past 18 years of my professional life in the EMS system for the people of Whidbey Island,” he said, “and I will not abandon that now even if it means giving up my own pay if the law so decrees.”

Approximately 100 people came to the Coupeville Recreation Hall to listen and question candidates running for office on Central Whidbey Island.

Both Zaveruha and Ayers want to solve the hospital’s current financial problems, but see different ways to do that.

Whidbey General Hospital lost more than $700,000 in 2002 and went through a series of layoffs this summer to make up for revenue shortfalls.

Ayers, who retired as Chief Operating Officer in December 2002, said the hospital should have a constructive dialogue with board, staff and administration to resolve financial issues.

She added that half the people seeking health care on the island don’t go to Whidbey General Hospital and the hospital has to attract more patients.

“The hospital does well financially when the utilization of services is high,” Ayers said.

She added that the hospital has to engage state and federal governments on such subjects as improving Medicare reimbursements.

Zaveruha also touched upon the hospital’s financial situation. However, he placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the hospital board and administration for their policies.

“Their programs of the last five years have resulted in (the current) financial deficit and a public loss of confidence,” Zaveruha said.

After the forum, he said he has a 28-item list of what he sees as excessive expenditures. One project he highlighted is the Patients First program.

“They spent $350,000 on Patients First to teach nurses to be nice to patients,” Zaveruha said.

During the forum, he added that although Ayers has years of experience at the hospital, she has been part of the administration that has caused the hospital’s financial situation.

Zaveruha also touched upon the conflict of interest concerns facing him should he win the election. The hospital board has repeatedly said that his EMS director contract would be terminated if he were elected in order to resolve a conflict of interest concern.

He said that if elected he intends to take his seat on the hospital board and he’s willing to give up his pay as EMS director if necessary to settle the conflict of interest issue.

While the candidates talked about hospital finances, audience questions ranged from how the candidates are financing their campaigns to how they are going to deal with any future animosity on the board.

Carolyn Kinch asked if Ayers was recruited by the hospital to run and whether it is funding her election.

Ayers said the hospital didn’t recruit her to run and that an independent committee is raising money, emphasizing that she’ll provide financial records for anyone who asks.

Zaveruha said he filed the public disclosure forms that are available for anyone to see.

Karen Lewis asked Ayers how she could function on the board after the medical staff passed a no-confidence vote regarding her performance several years ago.

Ayers said that the responsibility of the board is to represent the needs of the community which may not necessarily be the needs of the staff.

After the meeting, she wouldn’t comment further on the issue.

Another person in the audience asked how each will be able to co-exist with other members of the board.

Ayers said that disagreements allows a board to consider all aspects of a decision and can make good decisions from them.

Zaveruha said that if he is outvoted four to one, than his goal would be to try and sway the vote.

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