Hospital board hears CEO concerns

Jeff Moberg photo
Jeff Moberg photo

Staff vocalize support, trustees hold marathon executive session to consider admin future

By Sarah Pridgeon

The Crook County Medical Services District Board of Trustees was overwhelmed by input from district employees last week at a work session during which they considered whether to terminate the employment of CEO Jan Van Beek.

After hearing the thoughts of department heads and doctors and debating the question in executive session, the board opted to implement a three-month improvement program instead.

Before the executive session began, a number of employees shared their thoughts as public comment. Though the purpose of the meeting had not been advertised for legal reasons, many had guessed its intent.

“I heard that you guys were going to have a special board meeting. I was under the impression that the meeting was going to address the continued employment of Jan Van Beek and I became concerned at that time that decisions would be made without discussing how the other employees felt,” said Sandra Hogue, HR.

“Rumors are going around that Jan is a bully and people can’t talk with her and I thought that the board needed to hear what the rest of us have to say.”

Chairman Sandy Neiman questioned how word had spread that the meeting concerned Van Beek’s employment. Hogue stated that she had heard it from multiple sources and that it “might have initiated with Jan” but had been “confirmed with others.”

Attendees at the meeting were under the impression that the issue of Van Beek’s employment originated with complaints from staff members that were made directly to the Board of Trustees.

“My concern is that, right now, the facility is probably the worst I’ve seen it in the whole time I’ve been here. I think Jan is backed in a corner right now,” said Audrey Finn, Purchasing, noting that she has worked for the district for 26 of the last 28 years.

“We’ve never had employees involved with the board before…I think we have a policy as employees that we are to go up the chain of command – the only time that it goes to the board is if it can’t be resolved between Jan and that employee. I’m not comfortable working here any more…[because] I cannot do my job properly.”

A noticeably emotional Finn told the board that she is frustrated, mad about the situation and unwilling to continue working for the district if it continues.

“We have a policy we need to follow and I believe the board needs to follow it too,” she said. “The next one that calls the board should be fired on the spot, and that’s it.”

Hogue agreed with Finn’s assessment, adding that, according to procedure, a staff member should approach their supervisor and the issue should be put into writing.

“We have a good hospital, we have good benefits. I’m happy here, but I’m not going to keep putting up with where we are right now,” said Finn.

Steve Francis, Accounting, agreed with the frustration and said that it is undermining the staff from doing what they have been hired to do. He shared his opinion that the problem is common to small facilities and centers on the perception that Van Beek has many friends among the staff.

“If someone has an issue with someone they feel is a friend of Jan, they have on their own come to the conclusion they cannot request help from Jan if the issue involves one of her friends. I will personally say that, when I have come to Jan about issues, it has been professional, not personal, and her relationship with the individual does not sway or move her decision,” he said.

“She’s very professional, very fair, very direct, very reasonable and if anyone says they don’t feel they can go to Jan, I will look them in the face and say they are wrong. Why don’t you try it? You might be surprised.”

Francis added that Van Beek has made tremendous improvements to the district over the last two years and urged the board to consider the stability of the patients and the future of the hospital above all else.

“If this executive [session] is to remove Jan, God help us,” he said. “It’s all going to go in the toilet.”

Amber Ondriezek, Director of Nursing, mirrored Francis’s thoughts and thanked Van Beek for the good working relationship she has with the staff.

“You’re getting crucified for being friendly here…I don’t agree, Jan has always been professional with us,” she said.

“She’s been friendly, but she still tells us no, she still tells us get your stuff done or I’m writing you up. I think she’s a great boss.”

Ondriezek also pointed to the many improvements achieved during Van Beek’s tenure as CEO, including the upcoming electronic medical records system and new CT scanner.

“She’s written more grants than anybody I’ve ever known to get us things that we need for our patients,” she said. “I appreciate that and I support her.”

Dr. Janice Lumnitz told the board that an administrator who makes every member of staff happy at all times is an administrator who is likely to land the district in deep trouble very quickly.

“There are good administrators and bad administrators. Jan is a good administrator, period,” she said. “She makes some people happy sometimes and she makes some people sad sometimes – that’s a characteristic of a good administrator.”

Lumnitz added that she has been privy to Van Beek’s actions during conflict and thinks she does the best possible job in being fair and seeing both sides of an issue in order to resolve it.

“I do not think it is possible to find somebody who is going to be better than she is. We would be very lucky to find somebody who is as good as she is and I would strongly recommend against getting off a good horse in the middle of the stream,” she concluded.

Dr. Kirk Mitchell commented that, when he joined the district four years ago, meetings were wrought with people complaining. That so many people had come together as a team, and do so every day, he described as profound.

“These kinds of accusations are so damaging because…it breaks down the whole system. I can tell you that half the people in here are wondering who it is [that made the complaint] and that tears us apart,” he said.

“We had eight people in the hospital this week who didn’t want to go somewhere else – that’s amazing for this place. When I first got here, the first thing out of their mouth when they hit the door was ‘Spearfish or Gillette’.”

Rhonda Dick, Home Health Nurse, told the board that she has witnessed and experienced events that lend support to the rumors of bullying.

“I would like to say that I personally have been treated rudely and unprofessionally and publically humiliated by Jan. I have witnessed the public humiliation of another department head at several department head meetings,” she said.

“I’m not going to sit here and pretend like that didn’t happen and I’m not going to pretend that that’s ok. It’s clearly not ok, to me, and it has made my professional life here uncomfortable.”

Dick mentioned instances of Van Beek threatening to fire members of staff during department head meetings and commented that this makes people uncomfortable. She stated that she feels the behavior she has witnessed does fit the criteria of bullying.

Hogue agreed that Van Beek has perhaps behaved in a way she shouldn’t have but said that “nobody here is perfect.” She suggested to the board that everybody deserves a second chance and

mentioned she has talked to Van Beek in the past about some of the issues raised by Dick and believes she has seen improvement since that time.

“I do think that Jan is very good at the business and I will admit that in the last two weeks I have not heard any threats about being fired. There is room for improvement and that would be the best outcome,” said Dick, stressing that she does not want to see Van Beek lose her job.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg of my complaints and concerns…and I’m not the one who has been calling the board, so that tells me I’m not the only one who has been treated this way. I don’t want to see anybody lose their job…but I can’t abide the status quo.”

Neiman shared her immense respect and thanks to all the commenters who came forward to share their thoughts, calling it “unprecedented.”

“That does say there is dedication, but it also says we have work to do,” she said. “Truly, the buck stops here – this board does nothing without us being united.”

Neiman also commented that a lot goes on that the board doesn’t necessarily hear about, which she appreciates is because so many other things are going on. The board being blamed for things they have never even heard about, however, is something she says needs to stop.

Trustee Bruce Brown was similarly thankful for the input.

“I hope everybody in the room understands that we, as a board, value your opinion and appreciate you coming forward and speaking candidly. We do listen and we take your input very seriously,” he said.

“We are a team and we’ve come a long way.”

The board retired into executive session to hear private contributions from staff members and discuss their options. Several hours later, they announced their conclusions.

“We have come up with an agreement that we are going to work on an improvement program…it will be a time-based program, we are going to move forward from this,” said Neiman.

“A lot of comments we got today…were extremely beneficial. I won’t say they turned the tide, but we feel we did what we need to do to open up the lines of communication.”

Tim Sughrue of Rapid City Regional Hospital described the improvement program as a “tremendous opportunity” and expressed his optimism for the future. He offered the help of RCR to conduct employee engagement surveys on an anonymous basis.

The aim of the improvement program will be to progress in all areas and keep watch on the situation, said the board, based on communication and meeting guidelines. The program has a three-month timeframe and will then be evaluated to see if the board’s criteria have been met.