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Public outcry

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Photo by Stefanie Shirk/NLJ Randy Lindauer, chief executive officer of Weston County Health Services, sits at the table surrounded by WCHS board members and a packed crowd on Thursday, May 2, as he waits for the special board meeting to begin. The community showed up in numbers to support Chief Operating Office Piper Allard, who was placed on administrative leave, and to raise concerns about hospital operations.
Mary Stroka, NLJ Reporter

Community calls for better leadership at Weston County Health Services

Dozens of community members packed the Weston County Health Services’ board meeting on May 2 with concerns about communication within and outside the hospital. Video footage showed little room to stand, let alone sit, and people lined the hallway outside the room to express their frustration over staffing changes and other actions taken by
board members and the hospital’s CEO.

Three people from H&H Leadership Solutions, a consulting team that was hired to conduct three months of advisory solutions and operational review work, presented its operational assessment at the beginning of the meeting. Representing H&H were Stephen Hartz, the president of leadership and executive recruitment; Thomas Steiner, senior executive adviser for leadership; and Charles Hall, president of health care advisory solutions, but the citizens who attended expressed impatience with the presenters and indicated a desire to address community concerns instead.
Many of the members of the public who were in attendance gestured in the affirmative when asked whether they were there because Chief Operating Officer Piper Allard had been placed on administrative leave, and their dissatisfaction rose during the meeting when Chair Dorothy Briggs, with Allard’s permission, read a letter that WCHS Chief Executive Officer Randy Lindauer had previously given Allard.
Lindauer had said earlier in the meeting that Allard, who he believes is “very intelligent,” was put on administrative leave, not terminated, and that he has not terminated any providers. However, in the letter, which was read later, Lindauer asked Allard for her resignation after placing her on administrative leave. Lindauer said that he asked for her resignation because his “assessment for Weston County Health Services needs to be for its future.”
Allard’s employment status appears to be just one symptom of a larger problem, community members at the meeting indicated.



Early in the meeting, during public comment, board candidate Nathan Ballard repeatedly urged the board to find a way for Allard and Lindauer to work together for the sake of smoothing leadership succession. Ballard said it is his understanding from others at the hospital that Allard has “worn a lot of hats” and been one of the most valuable staff members. He noted how the consultants had said that there are only 24 people who run the hospital and 17 “through no fault of their own” lack experience in their roles and need training.

“We have put this hospital in an extremely vulnerable position by the timing of this move,” Ballard said. “Piper made things work with Judd [Dawson, the previous CEO]. She kept the hospital running when we didn’t have a CEO. One day, Randy won’t be here, so she was really the person who we would rely on if anything happened to Randy.”

Ballard said that Weston County’s hospital should have a culture where the community can “grow (its) own people,” and that the hospital should make itself an attractive place for students at local high schools to someday work.
Longtime Weston County resident Larry Curtis was one of several community members who spoke, and he said that he wants the consultants to recognize that Newcastle has unique challenges as a small town.

“You can’t just go everywhere and get somebody to hire. All we’ve seen is — the public — is basically you getting rid of people here at the hospital. Not that some of them don’t need to go — but you’re trying to get rid of some of the best people that you have,” he said. “Something’s fishy. Something’s real fishy with that. That’s how we feel.”

Dr. Duane Charles “Chuck” Franklin, the hospital’s medical director, said he believes that many employees are afraid of retaliation and are worried about a lack of transparency. He asked what is being done about it.

“I have not seen any retaliation,” Lindauer said. “Every time I walk over to long-term care, everybody’s happy, the patients are happy. If I go into patients’ rooms, they’re happy. I don’t see the negativity.”

“Most of the staff are feeling that here,” Franklin said.

“I talk with the staff,” Lindauer said.
“So do I,” Franklin said.

H&H Leadership’s assessment indicated that there was a “lingering fear of retaliation” at the facility, but the testimony of many staff and community members who spoke at the meeting suggested that the problem had worsened.

Ballard said that “all the good employees in the hospital that make it work are shaking in their boots” and may leave if a better opportunity presents itself.

“The most foolish thing we could ever do is to make the culture such that the people just wander away, because we won’t get them back,” he said.

The hospital CEO indicated that the actions he has taken were necessary to keep the hospital in compliance to avoid the danger of the facility being shut down.

“It is my duty and under oath to keep this organization open from a compliance standpoint and keep it running,” Lindauer said. “If not, not only the State Board of Health, the Office of Inspector General, everybody else can come in and shut this organization down, so it’s my duty to keep this organization in compliance, and that’s not an easy job.”

Community involvement

Community involvement in running the hospital is crucial, according to at least a few people who spoke at the meeting.

Kim Dean, the News Letter Journal’s managing editor, asked how many staff and community members the consultants interviewed and how they were selected. After Steiner said that the team interviewed only two community members, Dean said that the consultants should also have watched the video footage of town hall meetings that occurred in February, because community concerns had been voiced in those meetings as well.

Hartz explained that H&H is not local but has participated, albeit remotely, in every board meeting since the end of March.

(Editor’s note: Videos of last week’s meeting can be found on the News Letter Journal’s Youtube channel. We encourage readers to view those videos for greater detail of the meeting.)

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