Despite calling a special meeting on the subject on Wednesday, April 6, the Oak Valley Hospital District Governing Board still has not come to a decision on the fate of Chief Executive Officer John Friel on whether or not to extend his contract as the hospital’s top administrator. Friel’s current contract ends in October of this year.
Many citizens came forward to speak in support of Friel prior to the directors breaking to a closed session to discuss the topic.
Tom Van Ruiten started the list of speakers asking the elected board members what its “true agenda” was when it came to the fate of the hospital. He questioned if the directors were acting in the best interest of the community.
“If you have a better plan, share it with us,” Van Ruiten insisted. “Can you set me straight?”
Van Ruiten said that he supported Friel as CEO and the hospital’s relationship with Catholic Heathcare West.
Saundra West, Vice-President of the Oak Valley Hospital Foundation informed the board she had been busy mediating with donors on issues caused by the board. She accused the board of “polarizing the community” and that donors have contacted her wanting to pull support for the foundation’s upcoming gala due to the actions.
Pediatrician Krystyna Belski, a former hospital Chief of Staff, urged the board to retain Friel, citing the approaching completion of the hospital’s new construction. She said the hospital was about 75 percent complete and a new appointee would delay the opening because of having to learn the hospital’s operation.
Belski also said that Friel had to make unpopular decisions regarding cuts with some of the staff, but that those cuts were fiscally needed and not Friel’s fault.
Oakdale resident Scott Abell was the most critical of the board and most vocal of the speakers.
Abell referred to the April 6 issue of The Oakdale Leader article about the divisiveness of the board and that they demonstrated the described behavior during public meetings. He claimed the article failed to mention aggravated factors that Chun had closed door meetings with hospital staff and the impact of removing a CEO midway through hospital construction.
Abell said the board was in the process of a “decapitation of the CEO.”
“Are we building a new hospital, or are you closing the one we have?” asked Abell. “Your actions are un-Oakdale.”
Dan Titus stated he had mixed emotions about the board and stated he had voted for many of them.
Titus said he had chaired the campaign to build the new hospital and put word out to the community that there would be a new hospital in Oakdale. Titus believed he might be held accountable for promises he made if the construction opening is delayed.
He also urged the board to retain Friel until at least the completion of the new construction.
Mickey Peabody spoke up that she put faith in the board’s eventual decision and was appalled that the community was withholding support because of their disappointment of the board’s previous actions.
Michael Saporito informed Chun that it appeared by the board’s actions, that Friel’s tenure was limited, but asked if there was a plan in place to recruit for a new position.
Chun stated that those steps would be on a future agenda and would be met with the contract with CHW.
Chun announced that he wanted to make clear that he supported CHW and wishes Oak Valley Hospital to continue with CHW.
Diane Grimes ended the list of speakers requesting that the board look at the best interest for the hospital.
Over the last few months there has been much demonstrated contention on the board, recently with the appointment of Bob Wikoff as a community representative and newly elected members criticizing that appointment.
In November of last year, Chun, Louise Pooley-Sanders, and Dan Cummins ran as a slate promising change, eventually winning positions on the board and thereby turning Wikoff out of office. Some also speculate that the new board’s dissention may have led to the March 30 resignation of Chief Financial Officer Wayne Mills.
Oak Valley Hospital bylaws state that at least two of the elected board members and the CHW representative, Don Wiley in this matter, have to be part of the majority that votes in favor to extend a CEO’s contract.
After one hour of closed session the board returned to announce that there was still no decision.