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Hospital Board of Trustees Holds Open Forum at Regularly Scheduled Meeting

By Staff | Oct 24, 2017

The Palo Alto County Hospital Board of Trustees met on Wednesday, Oct. 18 for a regularly scheduled board meeting. Board Members in attendance included Kris Ausborn, Dawn Schmidt, Jim Hobart, Tammy Naig, Mary Cooper, Terry Naig, and Interim Administrator Charles Kelch.

The Board of Trustees meeting opened with an Open Forum for those in attendance to raise comments and concerns to the Board regarding the recent layoff of 16 full time employees at the hospital.

“Recently, I believe a week ago now, we had a lay off, and my concerns about that are how it was handled,” Bonnie Winther, an International Staff Representative for Communications Workers of America, stated. “These are people that were laid off. And they were called in; they heard rumors, there were rumblings of layoffs, but nobody knew who it was going to be. They were called in on Thursday morning or sometime during the day Thursday or part of Friday, handed a packet explaining to them that they were laid off, and they were escorted out immediately.”

Winther went on to discuss general procedures for a person resigning from a position, “Licensed staff have to give a 30 day notice; regular staff give at least a two week notice, if not longer. If they know they’re going to retire in June they might tell you in January. They have enough respect for the hospital and the patients, in particular, so that it can run smoothly and have a smooth transition.”

“They weren’t afforded the same,” Winther continued. “They were walked out as if they were criminals with management. Some were allowed to go pick up their own personal belongings while management watched them do it; some were not. Some had to arrange a time to come back and get it; or they could get part of their stuff and come back later to get it. This is not how you treat people that work for you for many, many years.”

Winther went on to bring the severance package to the attention of the board. She stated that it was unclear in the way that the package operated.

“You know, I know, when there’s, I’ve been through enough of these, that when there is financial difficulties there are hard things and hard decisions people have to make,” Winther persisted. “And this is a hospital with patients; this is a medical facility. That’s what the folks are here for- is the patients [] I’m not sure that you as a board were aware of how this was going to take place. I don’t know if you were told that the positions were going to be walked out the door or the folks that work for you.”

Kevin Gilman, a terminated employee volunteered to speak next.

“Prior to coming here a year ago, I was the district manager for Waste Management Operations in Tulsa, Oklahoma,” Gilman began. “Our net profit for my operation was 1.5 million dollars a month. Still every month, I had to go in and explain what my losses were and what my big capital expenditures were- even though I was making 1.5 million dollars a month. So how in the world is this operation $1.5 million in the hole and nobody has been asking any questions?”

“As a District Operations Manager is was my responsibility not to take people’s employment; it was to figure out long before it got to 1.5 million what we’re going to do to put an end to this, and what are we going to do to recover,” Gilman specified. “You failed, you failed miserably. 1.5 million dollars in the hole, and 15-21 employees no unemployed in this county, in this community [] we have people here worrying what they’re going to do for their benefits for the rest of their lives, or until they turn 65. How are they going to pay their bills? How are they going to take care of their mortgages?”

There were no other comments made during the open forum by past employees.

The next meeting of the Palo Alto County Hospital Board of Trustees will be Nov. 14, 2017 at 8 a.m.

Editor’s note: Due to the length of this story, it will be divided into two parts. Part Two will appear in The Democrat on Thursday, Oct. 26.