The vote was much anticipated in the medical community where varying degrees of dissatisfaction persist with the hospital’s administration. Those who fall in the dissatisfied camp were hoping commissioners would support new blood on the hospital board.
Initially, three of the five commissioners voted to put one new member on the board, namely Dr. Henry Nathan. Nathan lost in a tie-breaker, however. (See ‘Who voted for who.’)
The only hospital board member who was unanimously supported by commissioners was Jim Stevens, a former county commissioner and school system administrator.
When county commissioners interviewed applicants for the hospital board three weeks ago, they asked Stevens why he wanted to serve a second term, to which Stevens replied, somewhat in jest, “Honestly I don’t know why I want to be on that board.”
Commissioners asked Stevens the most important thing he learned during his first term on the hospital board.
“It is hard work with that many people and that many doctors,” Stevens replied. During Stevens term on the board, he witnessed the hospital administration butt heads with various teams of doctors, leading to the collapse of the orthopedics department, the mass departure of anesthesiologists, the firing of a long-time group of ER doctors and an overall net loss of doctors.
Stevens was also asked what the biggest issue was facing the hospital board.
“Communications and getting along with people,” Stevens replied. “That’s our biggest problem, and we haven’t done a good job with that, especially with the medical staff.”
Medical staff does not refer literally to the hospital’s staff, but instead to the doctors that work in Haywood County. Doctors are not hospital employees, but do have a cooperative relationship with the hospital that permits them to treat and admit patients at the hospital.
Freeman and Steele also discussed the discord between the medical community and the hospital administration during their interviews with commissioners. Freeman said the discord existed among a minority of doctors but is not widespread. Steele suggested there was merely the perception of a problem more than an actual problem, calling it a “persona.”
At a hospital board meeting two weeks ago, chief of staff Dr. Mark Kinter disputed the notion of discord between the medical community and hospital administration. Kinter instead called it a “healthy tension.”
“I never really thought of it as a rift. I don’t really feel administration is working against medical staff,” Kinter told the hospital board. “I don’t think that is something the board should be concerned with.”
Kinter is a family practitioner at Midway Medical Center, as is hospital board chairman Nancy Freeman.
Hospital board members agreed with Kinter’s assessment.
“As a board member, I never really had that impression,” said Steve Sorrells. “I would like to dispel any rumors in the community about that.”
Despite claims the rift isn’t real, some doctors clearly feel otherwise. The percentage breakdown of those who are satisfied with hospital administration, those who are dissatisfied and those who are ambivalent would be hard to measure, however. The rift is enough of an issue that Stevens, Steele and Freeman told county commissioners during their interview that they would do more in their next term to reach out to the medical community.
Nathan said there is room for improvement in the relationship between hospital administration and the medical community following the unpopular ousting of the ER doctors in December.
“There is certainly the potential for the board to do better in its working relationship with the physicians, and I sincerely hope that is one of the outcomes of the recent dissatisfaction,” Nathan said. “I have high hopes the board will learn from their experience and will be even more successful in communications and cooperation with the medical staff.”
Despite any disagreements, the medical community obviously wants Haywood Regional Medical Center to be successful.
“I wish that the hospital does exceedingly well in its endeavors in the upcoming year. We are all in support of our hospital,” Nathan said.
Who voted for who
Commissioners Larry Ammons and Skeeter Curtis supported the return of all three hospital board members currently serving on the board — Dr. Nancy Freeman, Dr. Richard Steele and Jim Stevens. Commissioners Mary Ann Enloe, Bill Upton and Kirk Kirkpatrick initially voted to put a new member on the board — Dr. Henry Nathan.
Enloe and Kirkpatrick voted for Nathan in lieu of Steele. Upton voted for Nathan in lieu of Freeman.
The outcome: Stevens got five votes, Freeman got four, and Nathan and Steele tied with three. That meant a tie-breaker between Nathan and Steele. Ammons and Curtis once again voted for Steele. Enloe and Kirkpatrick once again voted for Nathan.
The tie-breaker rested with Upton, who had voted for both Nathan and Steele the first time and now had to chose one or the other. Upton selected Steele in the tie breaker. Commissioners vote for board appointments by paper ballot, but must sign their name to their ballots since all votes by the commissioners are a matter of public record.