Emotions ran high at the monthly healthcare district meeting on Monday, the first since director Jim Horn released allegations of fraudulent conduct by two other board members and two district staff.
Board discussion turned into a heated conversation when Horn presented an agenda item he requested to define the roles of district officers.
“I asked for this item primarily because I want to be clear about what the role of district president and district treasurer are in particular,” Horn said. “And the reason this came up for me was because of the result of a public records request that I had made back in June, which still hasn’t been completely answered yet.”
Last month, Horn released information to the public showing email discussions between district staff and officers about financial payments to Aaron Durall, former manager of Sonoma West Medical Center’s toxicology program. The emails were released to Horn as part of the public records request he made. The emails in question included board president Dennis Colthurst, district treasurer Gail Thomas, executive director Alanna Brogan and William Arnone, the district’s attorney.
Horn said he wanted to be sure that the board understands the limits of the officers to act without clear direction of the full board.
“The district is run by the board, not by the president,” he said. “The president has certain authority, the treasurer has certain authority, but there are limits to that authority and who really runs this district is the entire district board.”
Colthurst was quick to announce that Horn’s allegations were false, defending himself and Thomas, stating they were never involved in any negotiations with Durall.
The tables were then turned when Thomas and Colthurst questioned Horn about releasing confidential information to the public.
“What about the role of the officers and directors to maintain confidential information confidential, to listen to the attorney of the district before releasing information that could be attorney-client privileged,” Colthurst said.
No resolution or action was made on the agenda item.
Dr. Richard Powers retires
Monday’s board meeting was the last for Dr. Richard Powers. Admiration and appreciation was shared for the family practice physician, who is retiring from the healthcare board and from his medical practice. Powers has served in the medical community for 43 years.
Powers said he is confident the board is on a successful path after approving American Advanced Management Group to run the hospital.
“I think they’ve made a very good move with the new plan,” he said. “We have lost some employees because of cutbacks, and I wish that hadn’t happened, but I think this hospital will continue to be the most caring hospital anywhere around here because we’ve retained the crucial people that make that happen.”
Powers ran for a position on the board four years ago with a platform to keep the hospital open and running. He said after witnessing disturbing conflict and negativity on the board, he hopes they can find a way to work together in the future.
“I would like to see a collaborative board,” he said. “I feel strongly that the board has a duty to defend the institution it was elected for, and if we don’t defend the hospital and the work of the board then it is destructive to the welfare of the community.”
Powers last day of medical practice will be Dec. 31.
Former employees urge board to reconsider bankruptcy terms
Around 20 former Palm Drive employees submitted their personal stories about working at the hospital to the PDHCD executive director on Friday, Nov. 2, to be delivered to the board, but none of the letters made it to the directors.
“It was only addressed to me,” Brogan said at the meeting on Monday.
Sarina Ferguson, a member of the Employee Committee, appointed by the United States Trustee for the PDHCD bankruptcy, spoke to the board during public comment to let them know those letters were intended for the full board.
“We all were hoping that you guys would reconsider the 40 to 60 percent,” she said.
According to Ferguson, the 20 to 30 letters sent were to urge the board to reconsider their bankruptcy plan and give them 100 percent of what they are owed. Because information about the letters were not placed on the agenda, the board will not be able to consider them until the next board meeting in December, after the district’s bankruptcy plan is already presented in court.
“Sadly, there is a weak link in getting the emails from the place we were told to send them to the actual people that need to read them,” Ferguson said.
Brogan said on Tuesday that nothing is final for the bankruptcy plans.
“It’s important for employees to know negotiations will go on for two to three months,” she said.
Because the email correspondence was sent to Brogan on a Friday, a day when she is not in the office, she said she didn’t have a chance to include the information in the agenda for Monday’s meeting.
Brogan said according to the district’s current correspondence policy, to be included in the agenda letters must be received one week prior to the meeting. District staff records how many letters they receive and who they are from but do not include the letters in the agenda packet. Letters are made available to view at the district’s office, 612 Petaluma Ave.
In September, the board approved a bankruptcy exit strategy proposed by the district’s bankruptcy attorneys. The strategy included a resolution of debts for former employees: those who are owed more than $10,000 would be paid 60 percent of what they are owed; former employees owed less than $10,000 will receive 40 percent.
During a Sept. 5 court-ordered appearance, a bankruptcy judge set a Nov. 19 deadline to file a plan of disclosure statement with the court. There has been no action taken by the board to change the resolution of debt to former employees.
When Palm Drive Hospital closed in 2014, more than 240 former employees were terminated with no certainty about when they would see their final paycheck.
Laureen Buettner started working at Palm Drive Hospital in September 1980, and her last day was the day they closed. She told Sonoma West Times & News the amount she is owed is $16,527.24 in paid time off.
“I was handed my last paycheck on my last day, when the manager said ‘This should cover today and maybe a little extra,’” she said.
Buettner said there was no “extra,” but at least she is not owed for the actual time worked like some of the other former employees.
The next scheduled district board meeting is on Dec. 3 at Sonoma Specialty Hospital, 501 Petaluma Ave.