It was standing room only at the Fort Bragg Senior Center on October 1. The League of Women Voters (LWV) hosted a meet and greet for the seven candidates running for one of the four seats available only Coast Hospital's board of directors. The election will take place November 6. Be sure to to educate yourself and vote!
The seven candidates had a few things in common: they all voted for the hospital’s parcel tax, Measure C. They all believe in maintaining the obstetrics department. And they all feel community involvement, administrative transparency and a more efficient billing system are crucial to the hospital's survival.
I will now attempt to summarize each candidate’s qualifications and responses to some of the questions posed by the audience.
Jessica Grinberg has an orthopedic/prosthetics business. She has been a school board member and has experience with budgets and planning. Her platform consists of ABC -- Accountability of hospital executives, Billing improvements to capture lost charges, and Community support and involvement.
Amy McColley, RN, is a former hospital employee. She was an obstetrics nurse and supervisor and later became the hospital's quality assurance manager. She repeatedly stressed the importance of maintaining and improving quality of care in order to sustain and increase usage of the hospital which would contribute to the hospital's survival.
Kevin Miller, MD, is the hospital's ophthalmologist. He is currently a board member. His focus was on the board’s role in developing a budget for a 5-10 year plan to ensure survivability. He wants to look at "certain programs" to see if they fit in the plan or if they are "losers."
John Redding has degrees in nuclear physics and business. He is a former long-term executive with General Electric has 40+ years in financial management. He has served on many private and nonprofit boards and believes the key to any well-run organization is collegiality. All employees must enjoy working for the organization, sharing responsibility in a group endeavor.
Jade Tippett has a background in education and stressed the importance of community input and support. The recent debate about keeping or retiring the obstetrics department is what got him involved in hospital issues.
Karen Arnold is the human resources manager at Coast Clinics. She has a master’s degree in management and organizational development and has over 30 years serving on nonprofit boards. She is a certified mediator and does recruiting for the Coast-clinics.
Rex Gressett is the odd man out. He cited no university degrees, no experience or board memberships, only his journalistic offerings in the Anderson Valley Advertiser and his involvement in the Fort Bragg City Council issues. He is a concerned citizen who owns a generous amount of skepticism.
I will now highlight the most salient comments coming from the candidates:
Dr. Miller said, "Gotta just trust” in the current administration that they would spend the Measure C money prudently. He supported administration's efforts several times. He believes in his 5-10 year planning process. And if he is not re-elected I hope he will take a seat on the hospital's planning committee.
Ms. McColley said the operational side of the hospital is what will bring in the money and to do that quality of care must always be improved. She got some silent applause from me when she had to respond to a multilevel question and had only one minute to do so. She responded with, "We should get more than one minute!"
The LWV structures these forums in the least confrontational, least informative way possible. The audience gets just a glimmer of what the candidates think. It's not fair to the candidates and it's not fair to the public. The LWV would do well to increase response times to at least two minutes. These are crucial, critical issues and people who have the interest and take the time to run for elected seats should have a little more time to express themselves.
John Redding believes there should be "clear metrics" in evaluating the performance of the CEO to be sure that the CEO does what the board wants, not vice versa.
Rex Gressett said he would hold the CEO accountable, but he would not be afraid of firing him if he underachieved. Gresset said he would not enter into a "corrosive relationship," just one of accountability. He cited the experience with the former Fort Bragg City Manager who was let go last year and things improved drastically after her departure, according to Rex. He also thought that a podcast from the board would promote community support and encourage discussion.
Measures C money from the recently approved parcel tax was discussed. Mr. Trippett thinks the money should be held in a separate account to track expenditures. John Redding echoed that sentiment, saying there was "no certain way to know where the money is going to unless it's in a reserve account." He also mentioned this interesting concept: He believes the current administration is "carefully managing the decline of the hospital." This is negativity and its finest display.
Rex Gressett has no confidence in the administration or its lip service to transparency. He asked for a copy of the budget and was given a one-page print out. “One page!” he explained, for a $100 million budget. When he asked for a more detailed report he was told to file a public records act request. Administration is as transparent as asphalt.
What about putting a new hospital at the old GP mill site? John Redding said he was "excited" about the possibility, plus adding housing units alongside for staff. Rex Gressett brought him back to earth -- the site is toxic, Gressett said, and it's the most expensive option available.
I personally might add that renovating or rebuilding at the current location makes more sense because it would be close to existing clinics, doctors offices and the helipad.
Then it was time for the two-minute closing remarks.
Ms. Grinberg said her ABCs were critical to the hospital's well-being. McColley said we all want transparency, financial statements we all understand, and improve quality of care. Dr. Miller said it was time to take drastic measures to save our hospital. John Redding said, We must work toward positive goals, not manage decline. “We must create a culture where everyone enjoys working at the hospital.” Karen Arnold said, "I need you to help solve the problems; the board can't do it alone." Jade Trippett said, "What happens in the next four years with the new board will affect the next 20-30 years for the hospital. We need a new hospital for the economic health of the area, and I what I can offer you is a tough work effort." Rex Gressett said, "Read my articles to know that I do my homework. I will give my full attention if elected. If not, my feelings won't be hurt. Enough of the happy talk. Conflict resolution is a buzzword. What we need is transparency and a clear ideology. I will do my best."
I hope there will be more opportunities to speak with and learn about these candidates. I'm glad seven people threw their hats in the ring. We have choices. And I hope the three “losers” will continue their involvement in the hospital issues and will offer to serve on its financial and planning committees.
* * *
THE NEXT DAY, October 2, I went to a meet and greet with three of the candidates — Grinberg, Arnold and Redding at the Harbor Lite Lodge. They reiterated their positions from the night before. I asked them what they thought of the Union (UFCW-United Food & Commercial Workers) that represents employees and if they thought the wages and benefits package was largely to blame for the hospital's financial difficulties. To summarize their statements, They were all in agreement that the health and welfare package was not the reason for the financial difficulties. The union's MOU is not the place to cut. It's an easy out to blame the Union and the employees need the protection of the Union. Also mentioned were ways to create a more healthy hospital — i.e., improving goodwill to increase usage, adding local businesses to insurance networks to lower costs, seek out more grant money, and enlist employees in decision-making, not view them as a drag on profits.
If you want the same old nonsense, vote for Dr. Miller. If you want a chance for real change, vote for any of the other six. Just vote.