A helicopter hovered overhead on Tuesday evening, February 27th, while inside Mendocino Coast District Hospital (MCDH) the Board of Directors held a job performance review regarding Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Bob Edwards. Outside the Redwoods Room, where the Board met, a hospital employee noted that this was the third or fourth helicopter trip of the day, taking a patient away from the coastal facility, presumably to a larger hospital elsewhere.
The helicopter flights away from MCDH are emblematic of a hodgepodge of problems facing the facility. From a purely personal point of view I can say I received wonderful treatment at MCDH when I went through two cataract surgeries with Dr. Kevin Miller in 2016. Beyond Dr. Miller, I wouldn't go there for anything beyond a blood draw for my annual physical. At one time MCDH had a vast array of physicians any patient would want to see, doctors of a caliber equal to UCSF or Stanford. Now, when coastal residents get a serious health scare they head over the hill, to Santa Rosa, to UC Davis, to UCSF, to Stanford, or beyond.
My loved ones and close friends know that in case of a medical emergency, I have instructed them to drive or fly me out to a hospital facility that is safe. That's a statement that will make MCDH's Medical Executive Committee (MEC) cry bloody murder as they did last fall when members of the public dared bring up the subject of quality of care at MCDH at a board meeting.
Afterward, the MCDH MEC took out a huge ad in the coastal papers to broadly defend themselves and the local hospital. The ad was apparently authored by the leader of the MEC, John Kermen, who would do better to heed the saying, “Physician heal thyself,” than put forth the public utterances he has come up with lately.
One of those statements directed the public to ignore ongoing financial crises as well as mismanagement at the administrative level of the hospital, pass a parcel tax, then everything will work out later. This “trust us and it'll all be fine” is similar to the spiel run out to the public eight to ten years ago when MCDH reeled its way into bankruptcy with Kermen as a member of its Board of Directors. This is the same John Kermen who concluded that newspaper ad/rant with, “Do you want your property to have any value?”
I will more or less repeat here what I wrote in response to that in a December, 13, 2017 column:
“Do you want your property to have any value?” falls directly under a junior high Civics lesson highlighting the method of propaganda that appeals to fear. This taxpayer, and I'd expect a good deal of the citizenry, expect more from MCDH's chief of staff than the lowest form of fear mongering.
While that helicopter ferried yet another patient away from MCDH on February 27, the Board of Directors decided to keep Bob Edwards on as CEO, under the terms of his current contract. Five days before the same board passed a resolution calling for a June 5th election for an up or down vote on a parcel tax. The tax would be $144 per year per parcel and it would remain in place for twelve years.
The resolution approved by the MCDH Board of Directors contains the following accentuated (all capitals) language:
“UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHALL ANY OF THE PROCEEDS OF THE HEALTH CARE PARCEL TAX BE USED FOR ADMINISTRATORS' SALARIES, BENEFITS OR PENSIONS.”
It doesn't take a doctorate in logic to figure out that the people who wrote this all capitalized sentence understand that the public has little to no faith in the highest levels of administration (Bob Edwards) at the hospital, but those same board members don't have the sense that God gave a jaybird as far as getting rid of Edwards.
There is one MCDH Board member who gets it. At a November 9th meeting Dr. Peter Glusker called for a board agenda item to consider the termination of CEO Edwards, for cause. The causes Dr. Glusker cited included the harassment of employees and Edwards' ordering employees to not answer questions from the public.
Multiple employees have confirmed to this writer that Edwards has told groups of hospital workers not to respond to the public or press when asked questions about the hospital. Some employees described meetings with Edwards as utterly lacking in collegiality or sharing of professional ideas about what's best for MCDH. To the contrary, these meetings were described as “Talked to” sessions: Only Edwards talks, everyone else is expected to listen to the gospel according to the CEO.
In a November 8, 2017 piece written for the AVA, Cindy Richards, who worked under former CFO Wade Sturgeon's direction, concluded with these words about the hospital's top two administrators (Edwards and Sturgeon),
“These corrupt, contemptuous men are strutting around like saints begging for taxpayer subsidies claiming they’re necessary for the betterment of our community, while harassing, threatening, terminating and covering up unconscionable behavior.”
In her article Ms. Richards mentioned attempting to schedule a meeting with Edwards in the spring of 2017, regarding some of her concerns, but never getting a response. Other employees have spoken to this writer about the same difficulty of pinning Edwards down as have patients with serious concerns about their treatment at MCDH.
In other matters, multiple employees from the manager level on down have recounted evidence about Edwards placing so much pressure on some managers that their behavior changed from pleasant to intimidating and harassing toward subordinates.
A November 14th closed session of the MCDH Board ended with Sturgeon's resignation. Presumably the board, with the exception of Glusker, believes that the CFO's departure combined with the promise not to give any parcel tax money to the CEO is enough to mollify two-thirds of the voting public. This same Board of Directors wants the public to ignore the fact that their proposed parcel tax will only pay for one month's worth of salaries and that doesn't even include employee benefits. They want voters to ignore last year's audit which found a discrepancy of well over a million dollars (in a negative sense) in the hospital's bottom line for the previous fiscal year. They're hoping that voters will forget that a former Human Resources Officer at MCDH has an ongoing lawsuit in federal court that cites as defendants the hospital, Edwards, Sturgeon, and Board President Steve Lund. If the case goes against MCDH not only would it be liable for damages under multiple workplace harassment complaints, it could also be cut off from Medicare funding due to false claims charges. No Medicare funding equals no hospital.
On top of all that there is money owed on capital maintenance projects. MCDH has a $1.5 million loan from the state under the Help II program to assist in the completion of ongoing maintenance required by the Office of Statewide Hospital Planning and Development (OSHPD), but that current maintenance is going to cost at least $300,000 more than the $1.5 million figure. Help II loans are the last ditch when it comes to borrowing from state entities. The hospital must complete these OSHPD projects or be subject to potential closure. There are a slew of other OSHPD required projects in the pipeline for the next couple of years with a total price tag in the multiple millions of dollars. In addition, MCDH is currently being fined monthly for not implementing an up to date electronic health records (EHR) system. The $4 million bill to complete the EHR is so beyond MCDH's current means that the institution is fulfilling their requirement with a monthly rental EHR system.
There's no more loan prospects on the horizon, yet MCDH must complete millions and millions of dollars worth of maintenance repairs and upgrades merely to stay in business. MCDH can't go to the banks, they can't go to state government agencies any longer, so they are essentially asking the public to loan them some money through the parcel tax. However, the sum total of that taxation per year is about $1.4 million, enough for one months worth of employee salaries. That's it. MCDH's leadership (administrators and Board of Directors) wants the public's money when financial institutions and the state's agencies, set up to help hospitals, have thrown up their hands and stopped loaning money to this hospital.
The etymology of the phrase, “Throwing good money after bad,” appears to derive from Colley Cibber's An Apology for the Life of Colley Cibber, published in 1740.