By Enterprise Staff
It was standing room only at the Kittson Memorial Hospital Association stockholders meeting Thursday, Nov. 29 in the lower level nursing home dining room.
A large presence from the community, as well as stockholders, attended to hear about the future of the hospital and the prospects of getting another medical doctor. This was possibly the largest crowd ever to attend the hospital association’s annual meeting.
The two-hour meeting came to an abrupt end after board member Dr. Roland Larter tried to inform the community about the new doctor coming to the facility. Kittson Memorial CEO Dr. Ashley Rivera told Larter he could not comment.
Larter stated the recruitment of new medical personnel is the board’s “premier concern” to increase revenues and services.
“I have been told we are getting a new doctor but my question is, why was this board never involved in this?” Larter asked. “None of us have ever met this doctor, administration went ahead and hired somebody, and as usual, with the rest of this hiring process, this board is not included whatsoever. I have looked over this man’s curriculum vitae writing, his professional training, etc.”
Rivera did not want to discuss the doctor at the meeting, but Larter insisted on discussing it, to the applause of the audience.
Rivera said there were rules and regulations to discuss the doctor’s resume without him being present and stated he’d have Larter removed if he didn’t quit speaking.
When Larter continued to speak, Rivera asked he be removed by the law enforcement officials on hand. Hallock City Police Chief Mike Docken came into the room, while fellow board member Richard Mortenson asked Larter to quit speaking.
After audience members shouted the question, “What’s the new doctor’s name?” board member Richard Mortenson admitted he did not know the name of the doctor that was coming.
Board member Bob Jaszczak said the meeting had gotten to a point where it was not doing anyone any good and so asked the association members for a motion to adjourn. Jaszczak asked the audience to give the board some time to work on the issues raised.
Tensions were high throughout the entire meeting, and only boiled as the board members conducted regular business.
Board President Marlene Pearson began the meeting and the stockholders cast a nearly unanimous ballot to re-elect Larter, Pearson, Mortenson, Charlie Bernstrom, Sandy Wilson, Janelle Craigmile and Jaszczak to the board of directors.
Secretary Craigmile read the minutes of last year’s meeting and Patti Swanson gave an update on the foundation.
Mortenson, who is a certified public accountant, presented the financial reports. He said the 2018 fiscal year preliminary unaudited numbers showed a loss in cash assets of $679,758. He also stated net profits from operations after depreciation and amortization showed a loss of $754,935.
Mortenson said the facilty broke even in 2017.
“Revenues for the two years are virtually unchanged, almost exactly the same,” Mortenson said. “The main difference for the two years is expenses. The expenses for fiscal year 2018 increased by almost $800,000. Of which, $755,000 is from salaries, employee benefits and professional fees.”
Mortenson explained that Dr. Thomas Lohstreter’s salary was included in the salaries in 2017 and half of 2018. But the last half of 2018, his replacements’ salaries are under professional fees. Lohstreter resigned effective May 1, 2018.
“In my professional opinion,” Mortenson said, “having losses of this level is unsustainable for this hospital. We are going to have to look at either increased revenues or cutting expenses.”
Mortenson asked for questions from the audience.
The first question for the board referenced if the financial increases on the salary side, is the cost dispersed throughout the facility? This question was followed up by the individual asking if the raises were for all staff?
Mortenson replied “and additional staff.”
He clarified that this additional staff did not include doctors or any direct-care providers.
Mortenson stated that while he hasn’t had a chance to look at the numbers closely, but that most of the salaries went to administrative positions.
Many audience members shouted out questions without identifying themselves. Some questions included:
“How can you justify increases like that and we don’t have another doctor?”
“How many non-care positions have been added in that $750,000? We seem to be getting kind of top heavy on administration.”
Mortenson said he had just received the numbers after asking for them for five months and assured the audience he was going to look into it. He stated he understood the concerns and he was going to address them.
Another audience member asked, “How were these administrative positions added without board approval?”
“The way the CEO job description is written gives him the authority to do that,” Mortenson said.
“I have a very grave concern, the rumors and rumors of rumors are nasty and constant and as board members if you are not aware of that, you should be,” stated Kay Rosengren. “There are new atrocities that people are being forced out or fired. Now each of those people have family and friends, all of them who are unhappy and that affects the people who walk in the door here. I went to Karen (Warner) on Monday, I pray to God she’ll be here the next time I need her.”
There was continued follow-up questions regarding management, salaries and how the board was going to address these issues.
Mortenson again assured the audience they would be looking at all these items.
Jane Larter, a former nurse, said almost 10 staff have quit or been pushed out of their positions in the past year. She also stated there were more considering leaving and that every position at the hospital was an important one, from housekeeping staff on up.
After all this discussion, an association member made a motion to accept the treasurer’s report, which passed.
Kristi Weberg, director of human resources, addressed the concerns from the audience about the facility’s volatile environment and employees not having a recourse as to where to go.
“I was brought in to create the best environment for our residents, the staff … to create a level playing field,” stated Weberg.
Weberg stated the volatility was present prior to the current administration, which elicited many scoffing moans from the audience.
She defended the administration, pointing out that many of the new positions started in 2018 and there had been errors prior to their start dates.
At this point Rivera stood up to address the audience after several asking why he had nothing to say.
“So if you want me to speak I can speak, that’s very easy. Let me remind you if you are going to be in this hospital right now, if you are going to cause a commotion, I will happily escort you out. We have residents and families and patients that we take care of here. So if we are going to talk then we are going to do it respectfully.”
Rosengren again addressed the climate within the facility and her concern that all parties do not feel comfortable speaking their minds.
“I don’t know that staff can get together with administration, peaceably or feasibly, and what we heard today was that revision is history,” Rosengren said. “I think people should be able to sit down together and do it without fear of retribution.”
“Ma’am I can tell you that I do my job and my team does their job with integrity every day,” replied Rivera.
He informed the audience that when he holds CEO lunches and invites staff to come only a couple people show up.
Rivera also stated he only reports to the board of directors and not the audience.
Mortenson stated they will work on setting up a process where the staff can talk to the board of directors about the discontent in the building.
An audience member asked about the name change and how the branding is being paid for.
Pearson indicated the foundation was paying for it. After the meeting, Swanson said the Foundation approved paying for signs only for the facility, which was a proposed cost of approximately $30,258.
Pearson wanted to let the audience know a new doctor is coming Jan. 2, 2019. She stated Rivera has interviewed several people to fill the doctor position.
In the middle of the meeting, Pearson recognized employees for their years of service. Recognition went to Kimberly Gullicks, Lisa Lindegard, Clarice Satterlund and Jimann Cozzen for 15 years; Joni M Peterson, Krista A. Olson and James Masloski for 20 years; Brian L. Hanson and Marla B. TerWee for 25 years; and Sonja A. Hanson and Shelly G. Romans for 30 years.