Mendocino Coast District Hospital (MCDH) held a Board of Directors meeting on the last day of May. The agenda contained some of the usual, such as a closed session item about the federal lawsuit Hardin v. Mendocino Coast District Hospital. The defendants also include the hospital's Chief Executive Officer (CEO), former Chief Financial Officer (CFO), and Board President Steve Lund.
Further down in the agenda one can find the usual lists of appointments to medical staff (full time, provisional, and temporary). The “Consent Calendar” contains the usual minutes of the most recent board meeting as well as adjustments to the Board of Directors' Policies and Procedures. Ah, but there's the rub. The policies being added or adjusted include bereavement leave, a public records request form, time cards for non-bargaining unit employees, and a money purchase pension plan. The list does not include two other policies that CEO Bob Edwards sent out to board members for their perusal a couple weeks back.
Those two additional policies were titled “Video Policy” and “Media Relations Policy.” The Video Policy contains the following wording:
The public is allowed to use audio or video tape recorders or still or motion picture cameras at an open meeting, absent a reasonable finding by the Mendocino Coast Healthcare District Board of Directors that such recording, if continued, would persistently disrupt the proceedings due to noise, illumination, or obstruction of view.
Only open and public meetings with a quorum will be recorded or filmed.
Anyone interested in taking video of facilities, staff, contractors, patients, or patients’ families must request and receive permission from a representative of the MCDH Public Relations and Marketing Department, and must follow our Media Relations policy.
Those three short bullet point paragraphs might seem innocuous to some readers, but it's the second, shortest of the statements that's intended as payback. The payback from CEO Edwards is directed at Mendocino TV for possessing the temerity to record, for the public to see and hear, interim CFO John Parigi at his last public appearance at MCDH in late March. The occasion was a Finance Committee meeting that did not possess enough committee members to constitute a quorum. There has been speculation that Edwards discouraged some members from attending, believing that without a quorum Parigi would not be able to speak, but who knows, could be the case, could be simple coincidence.
Board member and then acting finance committee chair, Dr. Peter Glusker, allowed Mr. Parigi to give his CFO report. Further, Glusker invited any members of the public already present to stay and listen to Parigi's comments. At this point Edwards excused himself. With Mendocino TV recording, Parigi verbally listed the greatest needs for MCDH: Putting in place a coordinated EHR (electronic health records) system. That and at least five more staffers in the business office would help stop coding and billing errors. Parigi estimated that implementing a new EHR system would pay for itself within a year, simply by tracking down the money MCDH is currently missing/losing from its own legitimate bills.
Mr. Parigi's most damning comment came at a different point in his presentation. “The hospital is lacking intellectual capital at its highest level.” As this writer stated in a March 31st piece for the AVA, “A more direct hit on Edwards couldn't have been delivered by a body slam on the fifty yard line.”
So CEO Edwards included that little nugget in the midst of his proposed “Video Policy” that there will be no more videotaping of meetings lacking a quorum.
Edwards' language in his proposed “Media Relations Policy”:
Members of the media interested in conducting interviews, taking video or taking photographs of facilities, staff, contractors, patients, or patients’ families must request and receive permission from a representative of the MCDH Public Relations and Marketing Department.
Employees are not permitted to serve as spokespersons for the organization or to solicit media coverage without the approval of the Public Relations and Marketing Department.
All media representatives must sign a Confidentiality Agreement, regarding appropriate and agreed upon use of photos and video.
All patients must sign a consent form before the media will be allowed to interview, photograph, or videotape. Patients are not permitted to invite media representatives to their rooms for interviews or photos without consent from the Public Relations and Marketing Department.
Media representatives must remain outside of the main entrance until a member of the MCDH Public Relations and Marketing Department or Security Team can escort them into the facility. A member of the Public Relations and Marketing Department and/or Security Team will accompany members of the media at all times while they are on MCDH property.
The Public Relations and Marketing Department will participate in all interviews arranged via telephone, video or conference call.
A Public Records Request Form must be submitted for all information requests.
Reading the last line shows the connection to the piece of the puzzle that remains in the May Board of Directors agenda, the seemingly basic public records request form (though the hospital's own legal counsel has stated that public records requests must be complied with regardless of any form). Originally all three policies regarding videoing, media relations and the public records request form came out of Edwards' office together.
Regular readers may recall the May 16th AVA article about Edwards and Board President Lund's “strategic initiatives” for the hospital. As it turned out those so-called initiatives were far less about public input and much more about Edwards having paperwork to show to bureaucratic auditors, inspectors, and regulatory review teams. Assuredly these Video, Media Relations, and Public Records Request Form policies started out as something to display to the Joint Commission (the entity that accredits over 21,000 health care organizations) and other regulatory folk.
Reading the restrictive language in the Media Relations Policy makes me wonder whether Edwards is aware that he is an administrator at a publicly owned hospital. Anyone reading this policy proposal should wonder if Edwards is aware of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment guarantee regarding freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Edwards would like to impose something akin to a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) on all patients, patient's families, and hospital employees.
I could go on listing the extreme restrictions inherent in Edwards' concept of a Media Relations Policy, but readers undoubtedly can think for themselves and already get the point.
At the MCDH Finance Committee meeting of May 29th, Edwards confirmed that the Video and Media Relations policies did emanate from his office. As of this writing, apparently enough wiser minds on the MCDH Board have squelched the Video and Media Relations policies from reaching the board's public agenda.
At the May 31st meeting the Board of Directors accepted the resignation of Dr. Lucas Campos. Those interested in filling his seat until the November election can send a letter of interest and a resume to MCDH, 700 River St. Fort Bragg, CA 95437. Interviews of those applying will be conducted July 16th. The public may attend the interview session, but only board members will be asking questions. Two members of the public will be enlisted to help count the ballots cast by the board members near the conclusion of the process.
Potential candidates and readers alike will want to note that three employees have recently been added to assist new CFO Mike Ellis, a fourth position may well be filled in the near future. Also of note, MCDH ended April, 2018 with a net deficit for the fiscal year (to date) of 3.3 million dollars.