ES Hospital Commission terminates Alliance contract
By Samantha Jones
The Eureka Springs Hospital Commission is no longer working with Alliance Management Group.
At a special called meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 22, the commission voted to terminate its agreement with the management company effective 9 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23. That decision came three months after the commission voted to approve a contract with Alliance. Approved on June 2, the contract gives Alliance a base contracted rate of $300,000 per year, with the opportunity to earn $300,000 more through a monthly bonus.
Commissioner Tyson Burden expressed concern over paying Alliance so much money at the June 2 meeting, and he was the only commissioner to vote against approving the contract agreement.
The commission met for its regular meeting on Monday, Sept. 21, with chairman John House suggesting the creation of four committees to improve oversight of the hospital’s operations. House said the committees would meet with Alliance representatives Darrell Parke and Mark Stearns on a regular basis and would bring updates to the commission at regular meetings.
“We’re in charge of oversight, but it’s a very fine line to overstepping and it can be really hard sometimes to see that line,” House said. “Our job is to oversee the operation of the hospital. Our job is not to run the hospital. Our job is not to undermine the people we’ve hired to work in the hospital. Our job is to oversee their job.”
House acknowledged that the commission has “some concerns” and said he’s looking for a way for the commission to be “involved productively” with the hospital operations.
“There’s been some legitimate things brought up. I don’t want to ignore those things, but I think the best way to deal with that is for each of us to have a specific function whereby we meet with people we’ve hired to run this hospital,” House said.
One of the challenges of being on a public commission, House said, is that the commissioners cannot speak about hospital business in between meetings.
“We have to only talk here, otherwise we’re violating the law, so that kind of limits us on what we can do,” House said. “But by having these committees that can meet and come back to the commission with a report, it gives us better oversight in a way that’s legal.”
“What makes the members of the committee exempt from the commission’s ability to talk outside of a meeting?” asked commissioner Michael Merry.
House said he spoke with Mayor Butch Berry, who explained that everything discussed in the committee would come to the commission for discussion and a vote.
“So nothing happens in these committees that don’t come to the commission,” House said.
Commissioner Barbara Dicks asked if the commissioners are required to keep up with the “legal part and the timeframe” regarding the contracts and compliance committee.
“Do we do the research and tell them, ‘Hey, we’ve got to have this in?’ “ Dicks asked.
“Ultimately, we’re responsible,” House said.
“Ultimately, we pay people big bucks for that,” Dicks said.
House said the commission must make sure management is doing its job.
“The way we’ve been making sure they’re doing their job has not been the right way of doing it,” House said. “It’s going to get us in trouble.”
House said he’s had conversations with Berry and the commission’s attorney, who both advised the commissioners to avoid going into the hospital.
“We can’t go. Unless you’re sick or visiting someone in the hospital, we can’t go to the hospital, OK?” House said. “We’re in breach of our contract when we do that. I ask you to put yourself in their position. You’ve been hired to come in and run this hospital, right?”
He continued, “Whether you’re doing a good job or not, if the boss is always there going behind you talking to employees and saying, ‘Are they doing a good job?’ how is that going to make you feel? How are you going to function?”
“I think you’d be paranoid, don’t you?” Dicks said.
“I’m just telling you we can’t go to the hospital,” House said. “We’re going to get in legal trouble if we do.”
House then appointed Dicks and Kent Turner to the finance committee, Burden to the contracts and compliance committee, Jean Reed to the human resources and operations committee and Merry to the marketing and services committee. The purpose of the committees, House said, is to avoid situations “where Mark and Darrell show up at a meeting and it turns into a four-hour meeting with lots of back and forth and lots of controversy when we’re not really making progress.”
House was most likely referring to the commission’s contentious Aug. 27 meeting, where the commission voted to terminate former Eureka Springs Hospital CEO Vicki Andert from the chief nursing officer position and rehire her as the hospital’s part-time compliance officer. At that meeting, the commission met in executive session for approximately 90 minutes. When the commission returned from executive session, Merry asked Parke why he opposed the motion to terminate and rehire Andert in a part-time position.
“What we’re dealing with is a power struggle between two entities and you just … you’re not going to have both of the entities in the hospital at the same time after this,” Parke said. “It’s just not going to work.”
The commission voted unanimously to approve the motion, but House wrote via text message on Friday, Aug. 28, that the vote was non-binding.
“Due to our contract with Alliance, we can neither hire nor fire employees at they hospital,” House wrote. “Only Alliance can do that. We can make suggestions, but we cannot take binding action.”
Once the Aug. 27 meeting was adjourned, Parke and Dicks continued to debate the commission’s decision.
At the Sept. 21 meeting, Dicks asked if she could “speak now” and House asked if she would be talking about the company the commission hired. Dicks said she wouldn’t, saying she planned to talk about the role she plays in the commission. She said her name is on the utilities and insurance company information. That’s why she has gone to the hospital to get more information on what’s going on, Dicks said.
“I know what Darrell tells you and I know you only hear one side and I’ve asked for documentation and vendors and what we’re spending and where the money’s going and I’m going to continue to do that,” Dicks said.
“You should, but I want you to do it through Darrell and Mark,” House said.
“No, I don’t trust them,” Dicks said.
“OK, whether you trust them or not is beside the point,” House said. “We’ve hired them.”
Dicks said Parke was “all about transparency and honesty and integrity.”
“Hold on, let’s not go there, please,” House said.
Dicks continued, “[Parke] said everybody in there, any commissioner, can ask for any paperwork or anything. That’s all I’ve done and he’s not happy about that, but I’m not going to stay out of that hospital.”
“I’m asking you to, please,” House said.
“Well, I’m saying no,” Dicks said.
The commission then moved into executive session to discuss “personnel issues.” After 65 minutes of discussion, House announced that the commission would continue its discussion at a special meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 22. At that meeting, the commission immediately moved into executive session “for the purposes of discussing the disciplining and/or termination of an employee.”
After approximately 53 minutes of discussion, the commission returned to open session and Dicks moved “to terminate the agreement with Alliance Management, also known as Darrell Parke and Mark Stearns, effective 9 a.m. Sept. 23, 2020, and in addition, the commission will take immediate action to put in place an interim CEO.” The commission voted unanimously to approve the motion.
When asked how he would have voted, House said he thought the commission made the right decision given the information that was available.
Parke said on Sept. 23 that he and Stearns are disappointed with the commission’s decision.
“Unfortunately, this became a personality issue with an upset commissioner. Our contract gave us the responsibility to manage the employees, and that didn’t happen,” Parke said. “Operationally, the hospital is in much better shape … than what we were given when we came in.”
Parke called the hospital employees “phenomenal” and said he never had an issue with them.
“The conflict is between us and the commission. I think the commission is working off wrong information,” Parke said. “It basically turned out to be, ‘We don’t like these guys, so we’re terminating them.’ “