Bob Edwards, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Mendocino Coast District Hospital (MCDH) does not want the public to know what is discussed at standing committees of MCDH's Board of Directors. At a March 22nd Planning Committee meeting Edwards claimed “trade secrets” after a letter, presumably authored by an attorney, was discussed at some length by Edwards, MCDH Board members Kitty Bruning, Dr. Peter Glusker, and several civilian members of the Planning Committee.
The letter appears to be a communication from a lawyer who is potentially seeking out MCDH as a client. The contents of the letter seem to indicate that the attorney would be willing, for a fee, to guide MCDH through a process that could potentially change its status from a “District” hospital to a “Hospital Fee Reimbursement” institution, possibly governed by a non-profit board instead of a publicly elected board of directors.
The words public and civilian are relatively crucial here. At that March 22nd MCDH Planning Committee meeting the audience was comprised of two or three MCDH staffers and one member of the press. Once the aforesaid letter was thoroughly discussed the lone member of the press requested it be made public, meaning added to the meeting packet on line and/or handed over in person. This is when CEO Edwards called out, “Trade secrets,” and Planning Committee Chair Bruning nodded, rather feebly.
That evening Edwards sent the AVA the following: “I spoke with Legal Counsel, regarding making you a copy of the document [name of civilian MCDH Planning Committee member here] had in her possession during the Planning committee meeting.
“The document... is an Attorney Client privilege document, and because it is such, I cannot release it to you as it has trade secret information.”
Edwards did offer his apologies for not releasing the document; however, sorry doesn't really cut it for the chief executive of a public hospital who won't let that very same public know the full extent of documents that could prove crucial to the future plans of said hospital.
Members of the public need only take a look at the MCDH February Board meeting minutes to grasp where things may be headed. Quoting those minutes, “Mr. Edwards reported on Hospital Fee Reimbursement for District Critical Access Hospitals and those Critical Access Hospitals governed by Non Profit Boards...
“Recent discovery by MCDH surfaced around finding disparities between Hospital
Fee reimbursement (NOTE: Provider Tax Assessment with Medi-Cal and IGT funds) for District Critical Access Hospitals and those Critical Access Hospitals
governed by Non Profit Boards.
“FACT: MCDH had a net receivable of about one million dollars last fiscal year, plus
had to submit over one million of its own dollars to receive its IGT(inter government
“FACT: Some Non Profit Boards of Critical Access Hospitals have been receiving
four to six million dollars via the Provider Tax, and are exempt from sending in their
own monies for a match (IGT monies).
“Recent conversations have been held that focused on MCDH exploring an
alignment with another Hospital or Hospital System that could enhance the financial
performance of MCDH. Within the last month, the Administration has discovered
that two District Hospitals are in the process of exploring how its District Critical
Access Hospital could convert to a Non Profit Hospital Board so it could receive the
higher amount of Provider Tax reimbursement. Changing to a Non Profit Hospital
Board would be addressing how changing the oversight of MCDH would improve
financial viability, plus it would be able to retain local control.
“FACT: An annual three million dollar improvement could be made to MCDH if we
became a Non Profit Critical Access Hospital.
“FACT: To change the oversight of MCDH to a Non Profit Hospital, would take a
vote of the people.
“FACT: It is possible to have the District Board remain in place, thus having the ability to receive Parcel Tax Revenues.
“MCDH would propose that if MCDH would be managed by a Non Profit Board, after
a vote of the people, that the difference in monies, for rounding purposes of three
million dollars per year, would be used to design, fund, and construct a replacement
facility. We believe that one-hundred-twenty million dollars (or more) could be set
aside for these purposes.”
Readers may want to keep in mind that some of the things CEO Edwards calls a “FACT” could well be called subjective allegations by others. In a document passed out in support of a $150 - $250 per parcel tax (!) Edwards claims “a strong partnership with our Labor Union, resulting in zero wage increases for this year.”
If you want to know if someone is reliable, sometimes it is important to check out history, especially when that history is less than a year old. Here's what was reported in the AVA about last summer's contract negotiations between hospital administration and MCDH's employee union: “The union ratified the contract proposal, with approximately 85% of its voting members in favor. The contract thus agreed upon is a one year extension of the existing contract. The idea to continue under the old contract for one more year came from the union. The bigger story lies in what the hospital administration had previously offered the employees union. According to a source familiar with the situation, initially MCDH offered a proposed contract that would have 'trashed' the health insurance benefits of the employees, greatly increasing what employees would have to pay out of pocket for less coverage in order to maintain any health benefits whatsoever.
The union flatly refused that offer. Next, MCDH apparently attempted a divide and conquer strategy by offering the hospital's nurses, lab technicians, and X-ray techs a 10% raise. The flip side of that offer: every MCDH employee below the nurse and tech salary level would end up paying for their own insurance... The best guess is that the contract proposals to the employees union came directly from Mr. Edwards, considering that at least one member of MCDH's Board of Directors was not fully aware of the negotiation tactics.”
This is what Edwards describes as “a strong relationship with our Labor Union.” I have no idea why he chose to capitalize “Labor Union.”
At the February MCDH Board meeting Dr. Glusker said he and Dr. [William] Rohr had received an email from a company that purports to do the same thing as the attorney Edwards wanted to bring on board. According to Dr. Glusker, Dr. Rohr would like to make a presentation to the Board regarding the company (possibly Med First Partners) with whom he has spoken. Dr. Rohr, Dr. Glusker and another Planning Committee member have seemingly been pursuing this notion for some time.
After Glusker's statements, attempts to bring Edwards' plan to a motion were tabled. However, a glance at the March 31st MCDH Board agenda shows a presentation by Edwards' man, attorney Lloyd Bookman.
Which brings us back to the MCDH Planning Committee meeting of March 22nd. Presumably, the letter that Edwards slammed the door on was one from an alternative attorney to Mr. Bookman since the letter in question was apparently brought to the Planning Committee by the civilian committee member working with Drs. Glusker and Rohr. This might make readers wonder, is this is all part of an ongoing power play between Edwards and certain members of the MCDH Board (most obviously, Drs. Rohr and Glusker)?
Edwards putting the kibosh on public access to the letter should make any member of the public question why Edwards doesn't want the public to see or read possible alternative moneymakers for MCDH. Or, in a more sinister motive, did Edwards quash the alternative letter because its details show that his plan won't actually benefit MCDH all that much? Citizens within the Mendocino Coast Hospital District might want to consider attending not only the March 31st MCDH Board meeting, but, also, meetings of its Planning and Finance Committees. Members of the public might want to ask what happened to the planned mediation (recommended by the Board's attorney) between the Medical Executive Committee of MCDH, the Board of Directors, and hospital administration. The outside mediator offered up meeting dates of March 21,22, and 23, but those days have come and gone without any mediation.
For some reason a line from the classic late '60s film Cool Hand Luke keeps popping into my head, “What we have here is failure to communicate.”