News

Deal settles conflict concerns with hospital

Four months after taking office on the Whidbey General Hospital Board, Dr. Paul Zaveruha’s contract as emergency medical services director and trauma director is set to end April 30.

But through some fancy legal work, Zaveruha will likely retain both titles in the future.

The board’s move was necessary to resolve any conflict of interest that may come with Zaveruha holding both a management position and an elected board position within the hospital district.

However, before he is out of a job, hospital officials hope to split Zaveruha’s duties into separate contracts that will resolve any possible conflict of interest issues.

Hospital officials want to transfer Zaveruha’s emergency medical services (EMS) director position and $67,500 of EMS levy money that pays the salary to the Whidbey Island EMS Council which will contract out the position to someone else. That way, he won’t be working for the hospital.

The EMS Council is comprised of representatives from emergency services that include the fire districts, the sheriff’s office and police departments.

The hospital will continue paying Zaveruha $18,000 a year — which meets a conflict of interest exception limit set by state law.

Rhine said the hospital has to pay that so Zaveruha can continue as trauma director, a position the hospital needs to retain its designation as a Level 3 trauma center.

Whidbey General Hospital CEO Scott Rhine said that this agreement would meet the community’s wish that Zaveruha continue in both roles at the hospital while ensuring he is fairly compensated.

“I see this as potentially a win-win situation,” Rhine said.

Those sentiments were echoed by Zaveruha.

“It seems to me that it puts to bed the whole issue of conflict of interest,” Zaveruha said. “I don’t see a downside to it.”

Board members are generally prohibited from being financially interested in the entity they oversee and recusing themselves from specific votes doesn’t eliminate the conflict, according to state law.

Zaveruha earned $83,000 last year to provide EMS director services. That salary was increased by 3 percent to $85,500 this year, Rhine said.

The hospital board position has been a point of contention on Whidbey Island since last August when Zaveruha decided to run for the seat that was vacated by Peter Borden.

Shortly after he filed, the hospital board sent Zaveruha a letter stating the board would have to terminate his contract if he was elected.

While the hospital board saw this as a way to alleviate a potential conflict of interest, some voters saw it as an attempt to influence last November’s election.

Zaveruha won easily as he defeated Amy Ayers by several thousand votes in the November election.

Zaveruha said the election originally produced an adversarial atmosphere. That atmosphere ended in subsequent months as the hospital worked through the situation.

An earlier effort to solve Dr. Zaveruha’s conflict of interest dilemma fell short. During the December hospital board meeting, the board gave Zaveruha a 120-day termination notice on his contract. Rhine said attorneys for both the hospital and Zaveruha agreed to the action.

Hospital officials and Zaveruha then worked to transfer the EMS director services to a separate business, which would then contract the director services to Zaveruha.

Officials hoped such an arrangement would allow Zaveruha to keep both positions and comply with state law. To ensure that the hospital was following state law, a copy of the arrangement would be forwarded to the Washington State Attorney General’s office for their opinion.

However, Rhine said the parties involved couldn’t come up with an acceptable business arrangement, so the plan fell through.

In looking for another way to resolve the conflict of interest situation, officials learned that neighboring municipalities such as Bellingham and Skagit County use the EMS Council to contract out similar positions.

Rhine said following this structure prevents the hospital from having the Attorney General’s office render an opinion because there is precedent for such an arrangement.

He added that the arrangement allows for fire districts and the community to be more involved in emergency medical services.

Zaveruha said most counties use such an arrangement.

During its Monday evening meeting, the hospital board approved the contract with Zaveruha and the EMS Council. During the vote, Zaveruha recused himself and left the room and returned shortly after the contracts were approved.

With the contract approval, the EMS Council has to file to become a legal entity such as a non-profit organization.

Zaveruha, who has been a voting member of the council, said it was already working on such a formal arrangement. He will continue serving on the board in an advisory capacity only to avoid a similar conflict of interest situation.

When the contract gets transferred over to the EMS Council, it will ultimately have the authority to choose who works the position.

Zaveruha believes that, even though the council could pick someone else, his track record and the quality of his program ensure he will retain the position.

He hopes that the new contract will resolve the conflict of interest issue and allow him to continue his work on the hospital board and as EMS director.

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

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