Board of Supervisors members vent anger during meeting discussing the WC Community Hospital System
Supervisors argued openly Wednesday during a meeting to discuss the situation at the Wyoming County Community Health System. It was ultimately decided that the request for a special committee to investigate the crisis engulfing WCCHS will be sent to the county’s Finance Committee.
The decision came at the end of an argumentative meeting. Ten supervisors on Friday had requested the establishment of a special committee to investigate the conduct and actions of the WCCHS Board of Managers. The committee would also look into the recent operations and activities at the WCCHS, along with the cancellation of the contract with Buffalo Bone and Joint and Dr. Paul Mason.
Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Rebecca Ryan said the idea would be moved to the finance committee, where the investigation could be done without being in jeopardy of being challenged or nullified. Supervisor Daniel Leuer of Middlebury was first to speak at the meeting.
“I believe we have a crisis of confidence — a crisis of confidence in both the hospital Board of Managers and the Board of Supervisors,” he said
Leuer referenced the two petitions which have been circulating. The first was to reinstate Dr. Mason and has received more than 2,600 signatures, while the second one to investigate the Board of Managers received more than 600 signatures. Leuer said in his mind it’s a call to action.
“As I have listened to arguments both in public here and in executive sessions and attorney-client privilege discussions, I can only conclude the cancellation of the contract of Buffalo Bone and Joint was done without sufficient foresight and consideration of the physical, mental and emotional pain that would result from this in patients and staff,” Leuer said.
Leuer has submitted a resolution to the clerk of the board for the next meeting cycle to formally request the Board of Managers extend a new contract to Buffalo Bone & Joint. He said if supervisors agree, now is [the time] to make their views known.
Leuer also pushed for a creation of the special committee to investigate the conduct of the Board of Managers and the recent conduct at the hospital. He said too many questions are unanswered and independent investigation is needed.
Supervisor LuAnne Roberts of Genesee Falls — who is an employee at the hospital — said they talked during the last executive session about 18 points involving why Dr. Mason’s contract was terminated. She said she would like to see substantiated proof of the accusations against him. Roberts said Dr. Mason wasn’t given the chance to answer to any of it.
“As a matter of fact, some of these accusations, I’ve attended some of these meetings where things were discussed, and I can tell you they were not quite 100 percent true,” Roberts said.
“The lack of communication and transparency on both the hospital board and this board is appalling,” Roberts said. “I think transparency is in order, and we need to do away with executive sessions. Everything we talk about, the public wants to hear what is going on. I think we need to let them know.”
However, not everyone agreed it was necessary.
Supervisor Jerry Davis of Covington said the Board of Managers in his opinion is a great group of people. He said they should give them the resources and tools to do their job, and not to micromanage them. Davis said all the information what the Board of Managers saw when making their decision to end Dr. Mason’s contract is available at human resources.
“They didn’t make it over one month. They made it over several months,” he said. “To me they made the right decision after I reviewed the material.”
Davis said the only Board of Supervisors members who have reviewed the information at the hospital’s human resources department were Ryan, Supervisor Bryan Kehl of Attica, and himself.
“The information is there,” he said. “It’s going to take a long time to go through it, because it’s a huge box.” He alleged there’s “another side” of Dr. Mason that most people don’t know.
“Let’s have an independent audit firm come in,” Davis said. “And as far as having a committee or commission from this board, who has the knowledge or the understanding to even lead such a commission? It would be a waste of time — let’s get an independent. If you want to do something, let’s get somebody independent — an attorney’s firm, I don’t care. Let them get to the bottom of it and then we can go for full disclosure.”
That’s what the public wants but the attorneys aren’t for it, Davis said. Kehl, who is also on the Board of Managers, said for supervisors to sit there and say they don’t know anything is a lie.
“This is another form of people grandstanding and expecting results,” he said. “To complain about something the Board of Managers did with heavy hearts. With all of the knowledge ... made a decision.”
Leuer said he’s disturbed that Kehl was dismissing the views of several thousand residents who have signed the petitions and described his comments as condescending.
“I’m particularly disturbed by Supervisor Kehl’s comments from the standpoint of dismissing the views of several thousand residents who have singed petitions is condescending to say the least,” Lueur said. “You sit there and you dismiss the sentiments of those individuals, both patients, residents and staff like they mean nothing. That is not the case. We have an obligation and a responsibility to respond to those residents in our towns and villages who are asking us what’s going on down there, and come to me and say, ‘Hey, I had surgery scheduled and now I can’t have it done.’ I wouldn’t dismiss those sentiments so easily.”
Kehl said the Board of Managers didn’t dismiss anyone — they knew they were going to impact people and they still made the decision they did for the betterment of the community, hospital and taxpayers.
He said he stands behind his decision and told Leuer not to shake his head. “You need to have the facts before you can judge me, like everybody else has been judging me and the Board of Managers,” Kehl said. “The disparities ... You don’t know the facts. You can’t answer the question.”
The search for the new CEO and the fact the interim CFO Merlyn Knapp is leaving prior to October, when his contract ends, also became issues during the meeting.
Leuer said he would not vote to approve a financial contract with any new CEO unless the Board of Supervisors had the opportunity to interview the person.
Financial concerns regarding the WCCHS were also raised.
Roberts said some other issues have been reported to her in the orthopedic clinic after Dr. Mason’s dismissal. While not free to talk about the issues right now, she said the Board of Managers has been made aware of them. Roberts said these practices lead her to believe some kind of audit or financial oversight over the clinic is needed.
Supervisor Mike Roche of Eagle said for the past year he has been listening in to the monthly Board of Managers meeting. He said the information presented there is completely different from what is presented at the Finance Committee.
“We talk about staffing at the hospital. We talk about agency nurses, contract nurses,” he said. “Does anybody here know how many contract nurses there are in the hospital? Has that information been shared with us? I can tell you. We have currently 29 out of the 68 positions are contract nurses.”
A contract nurse depending on the agency can receive between $2,000 to $3,000 weekly. The pay for full-time hospital employees is considerably less then that.
Roche said as much as he supports WCCHS and everyone that works there, he cannot continue to support funding it at a rate of $1 million to $2 million a month from the county.
“I’m not just looking at Dr. Mason and Dr. Mason’s contract,” Roche said. “I’m looking at the long-term financial stability of the facility, and I don’t think we are — I don’t think we are.”
“That’s your impression,” Kehl countered.
Roche continued to say they need an independent person with knowledge on healthcare what to do with the facility because a CEO would have their own agenda.
The remaining half hour of the meeting was taken by Hans Kunze, a member or the public who had requested to speak.
Kunze spoke in support of Dr. Mason, and said the previous CEO Joe McTernan had a problem with Dr. Mason. Kunze said the Board of Managers hired a law firm, Garfunkel Wild, P.C., for either $5,000 or $10,000 to do an investigation of the former CEO Donald Eichenauer and Dr. Mason’s contract.
“On several occasions, according to the Board of Managers people, that it was clear (McTernan) wanted to terminate Dr. Mason,” Kunze said.
He went on to say they need to have respect for the Board of Managers, alleged it’s hard when they don’t even follow their own by-laws. If they don’t respect their own rules, Kunze asked, how can the people respect their decision to get rid of Dr. Mason? He questioned the credibility of the Board of Managers and its leadership.
“We’re in an emergency situation and the only way to right the ship immediately is to have Dr. Mason come back as soon as possible,” Kunze said. “It’s OK to say and accept we as a county made a mistake, and we as a county need to right the ship.”