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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Gritman director wants board chairman out

Gritman Medical Center, seen in this 2007 file photo, initiated a full lockdown of its South Main Street facility Wednesday afternoon after an unidentified caller threatened to bomb the hospital, according to Peter Mundt, Gritman’s director of community relations and marketing. The lockdown was lifted after about two hours. (Ingrid Lindemann / The Spokesman-Review)
By Elaine Williams Lewiston Tribune

A key figure at Gritman Medical Center in Moscow is calling for the resignation of the hospital’s board chairman, citing concerns about the way he has handled his conflict of interest involving contracts that have gone to him and his family.

Board member BJ Swanson’s questions surround property coverage Gritman receives from the insurance firm of board chairman Greg Kimberling and unanticipated modifications to building plans for medical offices that Sprenger Construction is building for Gritman. Sprenger Construction is owned by Greg Kimberling’s sister.

“I believe (Kimberling) has lost the trust and confidence of the community and continuing on the board would be detrimental to Gritman,” Swanson said in an email.

Kimberling said he has no plans to resign. Kimberling, his sister, Linda Sprenger – owner of Sprenger Construction – and Gritman CEO Kara Besst disagree with Swanson’s stance.

The board has provided a thorough review of all dealings involving the Kimberling family, making choices with the best interest of the hospital in mind, they said.

“From my perspective, I would say there’s tremendous oversight,” said Kimberling, who assumed the chairmanship in May 2016. “The board has the authority to ask any questions they want and it’s (Besst’s) job to answer them.”

The roots of the issues extend back more than five years, to when Kimberling’s business won a contract to insure Gritman buildings against property damage, said Swanson, who was chairwoman for 16 years prior to Kimberling.

That contract is worth $118,000 annually and covers 12 structures, three office suites and their contents, which includes millions in hospital equipment, Besst said.

Kimberling said he won the contract in 2010 when he was on the board, bidding against other providers at the request of Jeff Martin, who was CEO at the time. The first-year savings for the hospital was more than $50,000, Kimberling said.

Since then, he has not had to bid against others when it’s renewed annually, but the board receives detailed regular reviews, he said.

The most recent of those would have been in 2015, and the board members were pleased with what they saw, Besst said.

At the same time, Swanson said her efforts to obtain numbers about change orders for a multi-million-dollar, 54,000-square-foot medical office were fruitless after she was no longer chairwoman, though she examined them routinely as chairwoman.

The change orders in question totaled $23,759 per month when Swanson was chairwoman and have averaged $19,333 per month since Kimberling became chairman, said Besst, who provided the figures in response to questions from the Tribune.

In February or March, the board listened to a report about the medical office building, Kimberling said. After the update, he said, Swanson sought information about the change orders.

“I said no because we had completed the discussion,” Kimberling said. “We had given it back to the administrative team and we were moving forward.”

That choice reflects the new approach to the relationship between the administration and the board he has instituted as chairman, Kimberling said.

“The whole process of change we’re going through is to stop the micromanagement of the hospital administration.”

Overall, Besst is the one supervising the construction of the medical office building, Kimberling said.

“Since I have been board chair, (Besst) has made every decision relative to this building project. … For obvious reasons, it would be important for me not to be involved in making those decisions, because I know there’s a conflict.”

Besst said she directs the project with feedback from the architect, contractor, subcontractors and employees who lead the departments that will be housed in the building, experiencing no pressure from Kimberling.

Going with Sprenger Construction to begin with also had nothing to do with Kimberling being on the board, Besst said.

The Gritman board has used Sprenger Construction as a general contractor since 2005, appreciating a local company was available for a wide variety of jobs, Besst said.

“(The board) has confidence in the quality of work that they have been able to do at a reasonable cost,” she said.

She also noted that the full board reviews construction projects, and the entire board evaluates her job performance, Besst said.

“I answer to the board of directors. The board is not one person.”