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If it seems ‘fishy’...

Kim Dean

If it seems ‘fishy’ …

The Weston County Health Services’ special board meeting on Thursday drew a packed, standing-room-only crowd to the hospital boardroom to hear H&H Leadership Solutions’ assessment of WCHS and to voice concerns about the decision to place Chief Operating Officer Piper Allard on administrative leave.

“Fishy” actions can be uncovered when community members band together to question the decisions made by hospital leaders.

H&H presented a rather lengthy operational assessment, which they had conducted over four days (100 hours), gathering community and staff input. Questions and comments at the meeting were held until after their presentation, but H&H representatives were asked multiple times by those in attendance to answer questions concerning the assessment. After repeated questions about who was interviewed and how these people were selected for interviews, it was learned that only staff, providers, board members and two elected officials, Newcastle Mayor Pam Gualtieri and Weston County Commissioner Don Taylor, were interviewed.

It’s important to note that H & H did not expend much effort to gain community input, because they considered the staff of the facility interviewed to be members of the community, which they are. While people associated with the hospital are indeed stakeholders, with the exception of the board members all receive a paycheck from the hospital. Customers or patients are different because they only use and pay for the services they receive from WCHS. So we must ask: How can an accurate survey be done unless you try to reach out to the people who actually use the facility and pay the bills?

Thomas Steiner, H&H’s senior executive adviser, stated that the company was only hired to “assess, not fix, anything,” but H&H representatives have stepped into a number of different roles at the hospital in recent weeks. It is fair to question, then, if the entire assessment — including hand-selected interviewees — was perhaps set up for H&H to slide into roles, with substantial price tags, to fix

When an attendee asked who was filling Allard’s COO position while she was on administrative leave, WCHS Chief Executive Officer Randy Lindauer admitted that H&H’s Thomas Steiner was the interim COO. H&H Leadership Solutions has also posted an ad to hire an interim chief human resource officer at WCHS on several websites, including LinkedIn, with a salary of $100K-$135K a year.

It is hard to understand how Steiner could claim that H&H is not “fixing” anything. In fact, most of what we saw and heard last week actually indicated that “the fix” may have been in from the start.

In a Feb. 12 WCHS town hall (which can be watched on the News Letter Journal’s YouTube channel), when Lindauer was asked by NLJ how much this assessment would cost, he replied $5,000. Lindauer was also asked if he had any prior connections with H&H, to which he replied that he did not. Now, some three months later, Lindauer admitted on the evening of May 2 that a hospital he was associated with in Texas had hired Stephen Hartz, who is now a principal at H&H Leadership Solutions and president of leadership and executive recruitment. Although Lindauer made sure to point out that he didn’t hire Hartz, he obviously knew him. This is just one of the things about the situation that seems fishy.

Another area of H&H’s assessment, which the company representatives recommended fixing, is in marketing, branding, and messaging. NLJ was informed on April 19 by WCHS that it was opting out of a 12-month online advertising
agreement four months early (made by former CEO Judd Dawson) at a cost of $5,000 per year. The NLJ was told the hospital was backing out of the agreement to save money, but when asked who was handling WCHS’ marketing, and the price tag, it was learned that H&H Leadership has taken over marketing for only three months at a cost of $10,000.

It is obvious that H&H has in fact been hired and is being paid plenty to “fix” things. NLJ has received unofficial reports that a three-month cost of H&H’s services, including interim positions, is upwards
of $163,000.

The longer the meeting went, the fishy smell went from bad to worse.

Many issues were revealed that evening. This includes a lack of communication within the WCHS board, in which some members were not aware of a special meeting that others were planning to hold the day before the upcoming WCHS election. Community members voiced very strongly that they wanted this meeting delayed until after the election when, presumably, new members would be sitting on
the board.

Some board members also did not know about a letter sent by Lindauer to Allard. Several times throughout the meeting, Lindauer and WCHS board Chair Dottie Briggs both said that Allard was only on administrative leave and had not been let go. However, toward the end of the meeting, Allard was contacted by phone. In that call, she gave permission for the letter to be read, revealing that her resignation had been requested by Lindauer.

The letter stated that she would receive six months’ severance pay if her nursing home administrator license could be used during this period. She would also be required to cooperate with a designee of Lindauer’s choosing to ensure duty/responsibility transition, and forbidden from contacting other hospital employees. It is incredibly important to note that Allard is the only licensed nursing home administrator for the Manor.

The community was right: “When something smells fishy, it is.”

We’d like to thank our readers, those who attended the meeting and listened to the live feed, as well as the over 1,100 NLJ YouTube viewers who have watched the recording of the meeting. An engaged and informed public is the best defense when things seem “fishy.”

What should be apparent to Lindauer and H&H, is that this community is Weston County strong and proud. There was a hospital long before they came here, and there will be a hospital long after they are gone. The people of this community will make sure of it. This is a community of generational problem-solvers who will work together to ensure the stability of the hospital and the Manor, and it can be done without a high-priced, out-of-state firm to “fix” things.

We maintain that the public has a right to know the entirety of the cost and depth of H&H’s involvement, including travel/lodging.   

We recognize that serving on a volunteer board can be difficult, but there must be open communication, trust and transparency from hospital leaders and those tasked with running WCHS. Special thanks to past and future board members for their service, along with all of the candidates who were on the ballot.    

A great big thank you goes to this community, who banded together and asked the tough questions when reports of hospital actions smelled fishy.      

It can be quite difficult to eliminate a fishy smell, but sometimes you just have to throw the fish out.

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