It’s up to the hospital board to fix the problems

Recent trouble at the Whidbey Island Hospital District raises questions about what the elected members of the hospital board’s role has been.

Many people see the hospital headed toward a cliff and are frustrated that the board seems to be treating the serious problems at the publicly owned hospital system as an “internal” matter.

The community rightfully demands answers as well as action.

Board President Ron Wallin said the board was surprised and taken aback when the medical staff overwhelmingly voted no confidence in CEO Ron Telles, COO Dr. Garth Miller and attorney Jake Kempton.

The doctors and other providers expressed concerns over constant turnover, hospital finances, disrespectful treatment and technical problems.

Why didn’t the board know what was happening? Perhaps earlier complaints and concerns from the medical staff and others in the system were not getting through to the board or were being spun somehow. Or were complaints just not taken seriously or considered unavoidable?

Then the administration unilaterally and abruptly started a severe restructuring of hospital operations, which involved terminating four members of the executive team and other non-specified streamlining.

Unless the Open Public Meetings Act was violated, these actions were taken without permission or input from the majority of board members.

The board met in executive session last week with members of the medical staff to talk about their lack of confidence with hospital administration. Monday night, the board met with the administration in executive session to discuss the recent actions and tumult.

It’s time for the board members to come out from behind closed doors take concrete action. The board should immediately instruct Telles not to make any further changes without consultation with and agreement from the board.

In addition, the board needs to extend an invitation to meet with the fired executives, namely Chief Nursing Officer Erin Wooley, Chief Information Officer Brett Mello, Human Resources Officer Debbie DeCorde and Quality Control Officer Jon Scallan.

By many accounts, these four have a thorough understanding of the hospital’s operations, challenges and mishaps, perhaps more complete than the administration that is left behind. What’s more, they are likely to be honest and upfront. Some people have opined that the reason they were terminated was to prevent them from speaking the unvarnished truth to the board.

Obviously, the meeting should exclude current members of the administration.

Controversy at the hospital is nothing new. Telles definitely had a challenge when he took the helm following two former CEOs who weren’t exactly well-regarded in some parts of the community. Former members of the administration and the board didn’t seem to understand the “public” part of the hospital district or the meaning of transparency.

Yet at $430,000 a year, Telles is well compensated for managing a system that includes a hospital, five primary and specialty clinics and a walk-in clinic.

The current board needs to ensure it doesn’t retreat back into the shadows.

At the same time, it’s important to remember that the hospital system is filled with talented and dedicated providers, nurses and many others. The no-confidence vote in itself is proof that they care and want better for the community.

Once the board has a full understanding of the problems, they need to take real and bold action to safeguard the future of the island’s vital medical system. It may be time to consider a partnership with an outside hospital.

The board should not let fear or personal relationships detour them from the right path.