News

Hospital board's actions questioned

Citizens came to the regularly scheduled meeting of the Whidbey General Hospital board Monday evening wanting answers.

One question was whether recent board actions were an attempt to influence the upcoming hospital district commissioner election.

The issue arose after Paul Zaveruha, EMS Director at Whidbey General Hospital, filed for the vacant hospital commissioner’s position and the hospital board said it would terminate his EMS contract if he is elected.

The board has said repeatedly that ending Zaveruha’s $83,000 annual contract with the hospital would resolve a conflict of interest that would result from him holding a commissioner’s seat and a paid position in the hospital.

Ron Wallin, an Oak Harbor resident who attended the meeting, said the hospital board comes across as being against Zaveruha and trying to influence the election.

He would have liked the board to wait and see if Zaveruha was elected and then hash out an agreement that would steer clear of any conflicts.

“A jointly written paper would avoid the lawyers and a lot of bad PR,” Wallin said.

Hospital Board President Peter Borden didn’t comment on that perception during the board meeting.

After the meeting, Borden said, “I didn’t comment on it because I don’t see any evidence of that.”

He said the hospital board isn’t actively campaigning for a specific candidate and that, while the board has an opinion of who is their favorite candidate, any political signs that appear on the hospital’s property are quickly removed. Amy Ayers, retired hospital Chief Operating Officer, is running against Zaveruha.

Borden said the board members feel they are following the law in trying to prevent a conflict of interest.

“It’s really important that the board’s integrity is preserved,” Borden said.

While Wallin was concerned about a perception of the board taking sides, Another citizen at the meeting criticized the process the board used to reach its decision.

Coupeville resident Tom Leahy criticized the board’s Aug. 11 executive (closed) session where they originally discussed Zaveruha’s candidacy.

He said the meeting should have been open to the public and that the board members should go through an education session about the Open Meetings Act.

Borden said that he thought the executive session was legal.

In hopes of resolving any potential conflict of interest concerns, Zaveruha said that he would be willing to take a pay cut to retain his EMS contract. State law in certain cases exempts up to $18,000 from the conflict of interest statute.

Borden wouldn’t comment on whether that would be an acceptable solution.

He said that, if Zaveruha is elected, the board will vote on whether to terminate Zaveruha’s EMS contract during its Nov. 10 meeting.

The hospital’s attorney will be on hand during the meeting to answer any questions from the community, he added.

Voters will make the next move when they decide whether Zaveruha or Ayers will be the next hospital commissioner.

While the seat up for grabs this year encompasses Central Whidbey Island, all voters on Whidbey Island will decide who wins the race.

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

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