Shoshone Medical Center trustees, two of whom have direct ties to a competing clinic, have ousted hospital administrator Bob Morasko.
The perceived conflict of interest and the hospital’s indebtedness have caused a rift on the board. That could threaten the very existence of the rural hospital, according to board chairman Jerry Cobb.
“The meetings are getting more and more heated,” he said. “Right now, we’re vulnerable.”
If the long-struggling hospital were to close, most Silver Valley residents would have to travel to Coeur d’Alene or Spokane for care.
A third issue in the controversy is the way the board treated Morasko, who will remain on the job until his contract is up or a new administrator is hired.
Eighty hospital staffers signed a petition objecting to the fact that Morasko did not receive a standard job evaluation, SMC chief of staff Dr. Mary-Alice Janzen said Monday.
“We are pushing for them to review him fairly and openly,” said Janzen, who predicted there will be an effort to recall some board members. “People are worried. They think, ‘If they’re going to deal with him that way, they’re going to deal with me that way.”’
But trustee Marie Stevenson staunchly defended the vote that she and three others made when asked by Morasko whether they would renew his six-year contract.
Stevenson is unhappy about the hospital’s $1 million debt, and says she’s been asked to sign checks when there was no money in the bank to cover them. Some businesses will only do business with SMC on a cash basis, she said.
“We’re in a severe financial crunch. We could go bankrupt,” said Stevenson.
The board voted last Monday to cancel the contract. After complaints that it wasn’t properly advertised, a second vote was taken Friday. Although scores of staff members showed up to complain, the results were the same.
The complex controversy will surface again tonight, when the board holds a meeting to get more public comment.
The main issues are:
Conflict of interest. SMC and Mountain Health Care, which compete for patients, have long-running disagreements about what’s best for Silver Valley patients.
Mountain Health is especially unhappy with the hospital’s management, Janzen said. At a recent meeting between hospital staff physicians and those from Mountain Health, she said, “they spent a lot of time saying Bob Morasko must go.”
That bolsters fears that two SMC board members affiliated with Mountain Care were out to get Morasko for business reasons. They are Terry Spohr, a physician’s assistant and partner in Mountain Health; and Katherine Joy, the wife of a clinic doctor.
Both Spohr and Joy voted not to renew Morasko’s contract. Neither returned calls seeking comment.
Also voting against Morasko were Stevenson and Robert Launhardt. Scott Beggs abstained.
Cobb only votes in case of a tie, so didn’t take part in last week’s decision. He said he is seeking legal advice on how to deal with the alleged conflicts of interest.
Finances. Stevenson distributed letters in the community on Monday, outlining her concern that the hospital was going bankrupt. The hospital has borrowed against future tax receipts to repair its roof, and at times did not have money to meet payroll.
She is not mollified by Cobb’s contention that the hospital’s $1 million in short-term debt is less than most rural hospitals its size.
“Everybody else seems to be afraid that Mountain Health is going to take over the hospital,” said Stevenson, SMC’s retired head of medical records. “‘My concern is the hospital will go bankrupt, and KMC (Coeur d’Alene’s Kootenai Medical Center) will take it over and it will just become a band-aid station, a satellite.”
KMC and SMC already cooperate on a number of issues, according to Cobb.
Janzen said that the SMC board should take a longer view of the hospital’s finances. The situation has vastly improved in Morasko’s five years as chief executive officer, she said.
SMC has made a profit in each of the last four months, after years of financial ups and downs, Cobb said.
Fairness. According to Janzen, doctors and department heads were asked around Christmas to comment on Morasko’s performance.
“You weren’t required to name yourself, you could say whatever you wanted to, positive or negative, and you weren’t required to support yourself,” she said.
Morasko said he was not given an in-person evaluation, as he has in the past.
“There was no communication to me of any specific unhappiness,” he said. “I knew based on the composition of the board that there were definitely communication problems.”
Morasko, 37, said he asked whether the contract was going to be renewed so that he’d have time to find another job if it wasn’t. He said his ouster isn’t as harmful to the hospital as the dissension over the way it was handled.
“It’s confusing and it’s unprecedented in all my experience managing hospitals,” he said. “It could put the hospital into a tailspin.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: MEETING Silver Valley residents will have a chance to comment tonight on the decision not to renew the contract of Shoshone Medical Center administrator Bob Morasko. The board of trustees of the West Shoshone Hospital District will hold the public meeting at 7 p.m. in the Kellogg Middle School cafeteria.
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