Memorial Regional Health Board of Trustees faces public rancor after PA firing
CRAIG — About 65 community members turned out Thursday, Oct. 18, to rally around a longtime physician assistant who was terminated by Memorial Regional Health the week of Oct. 8.
PA Neilene Folks posted a message to Facebook Wednesday, indicating she intended to speak about her dismissal during Thursday’s meeting of the MRH Board of Trustees and asking friends to attend.
The message spread rapidly through social media.
By 5:30 p.m., about 16 people had gathered in the cafeteria of The Memorial Hospital to await their opportunity to speak before the board of trustees.
Following their agenda, board members first voted to convene an executive session immediately following the start of the business meeting. Once the discussion pertaining to “personnel matters,” allowed under C.R.S. ? 24-6-402(4)(b) was completed, the board reconvened in regular session.
By 6 p.m. the number of people waiting to attend the board meeting had grown to more than 60, requiring the room to be reconfigured to provide more space and seating.
Once settled, the board — again following its agenda — first welcomed new Vice President of Clinical Services Kyle Miller, then heard a reading by board Chair Todd Jourgensen outlining the board’s public comment policy. He then opened public comment by inviting Folks to speak first.
After introducing herself, Folks read from a prepared statement, which did not disclose the details of her dismissal, but did point to a request to take a day off to watch her daughter at fair as the trigger. She said she intended to own and learn from the experience and hoped others would learn from it, as well.
“I’m sad that all this has happened, and … I want you, as a board, to understand that there has been a dark current in this business for a long time — and that has been there long before the current administration — and it is all that the power should not be with just a few people, but perhaps it should be with the board also, as well,” Folks said.
She then encouraged the board to assume more power over MRH decisions and create an employee review board. She closed by expressing surprise and gratitude for the large number of people who attended to show their support.
“I feel like I won the lottery,” she said. “Thank you.”
A mobile phone video from Glenda Bellio and complete transcript of Folks statement are included with this story.
After Folks read her statement, the crowd clapped, and someone yelled, “We love you Neilene.”
Following some confusion about the sign-in process, Jourgensen asked if anyone else wanted to address the board.
Breast cancer survivor Corky Coverston spoke about being a patient at both the hospital and the clinic.
“I really hate to see somebody lose a job over something that trivial. I would hope that you would reconsider,” Coverston said. She described how Folks helped her through her diagnosis, treatment, and the loss of both her breasts, saying, “I wouldn’t be around without Neilene to take care of me.”
Next, Glenda Bellio spoke about her concern with what she described as a pattern of hiring practices.
“I think you need to look around and see that you are letting go an excellent employee for really bad reasons, and you are keeping some really bad employees for some really crappy reasons,” she said.
Tammy Thompson Booker read most of a written statement by Gwen Rickerby, who described being a patient of Folks’s. She wrote that a letter she received — dated Oct. 11 and explaining her choices in alternative MRH providers — also offended her.
The letter provides former patients with contact information for MRH doctors and PAs who are accepting new patients, as well as contact information for the records office, should patients decide to seek a provider outside the MRH system.
A resident since 1944, Dean Gent said he’d “never seen such a dumb decision in his life.” He wanted to know more about the hiring and firing protocols, asked if those protocols were followed, and requested MRH publish the procedures. He called the board to account for the action.
“You are here to represent all of these people and the hundreds more out there, and if you don’t have the backbone to do that, then you shouldn’t be sitting on this board,” he said. He later said the board should have responded to the community at the meeting, rather than “hiding behind their policies and laws.”
After public comment was finished, most attendees departed. About 20, however, stayed until the second executive session, at which time all members of the public left. No one returned to observe the board take action to approve its 2019 budget at the end of the meeting.
The board of trustees is appointed by the Moffat County Board of County Commissioners to serve as representatives for both the county and the city and is directly responsible for hiring the chief executive officer. It delegates all other hiring decisions to staff. The BOCC liaison — Commissioner Don Cook — attended the meeting.
The board issued a statement before going into the second executive session. It reads, in part, “While the concerns expressed by community members at the board meeting are welcomed and understandable, these public comments do not accurately reflect the underlying factual basis for the personnel decision of MRH leadership to provide quality patient care in this community.”
The statement goes on to describe “extensive efforts to coach and proactively encourage positive behavioral change under the terms of the employment relationship.”
It further notes that, following on similar past situations, “MRH will neither publicly disclose the confidential details of any employee’s performance nor the individual’s employment relationship with the hospital or its clinics.”
At the request of the Craig Press, MRH Director of Human Resourses Leanne Crowe provided turnover rates — all departures, including resignations, retirement, and terminations — annually from 2014 to date, including a break out by medical and other staff and a comparison to industry rates for each year.
The data show MRH has turned over two to three medical staff, including physician assistants, each year.
The highest total turnover rate was in 2016, with a total rate of 20.12 percent.
The board hired Daniels as CEO in September of that year.
Since that time, in 2017, the total turnover rate was 16.82 percent and below comparable industry rates of 20.6 percent. So far in 2018, the turnover rate has been 16.28 percent, compared to 19 percent industry rates.
Between 2014 and 2018, both the total full-time equivalent and total number of MRH employees has increased from 307 in 2014 to 479 in 2018, making MRH one of the county’s largest employers.
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.