As I leave
A little less than two years ago I started at Weems, quickly purchased a house and relocated my family here. At that time, many suggested that due to the historical volatility of the position, it might be better to rent than buy. At the time of our move here, it was to be for the rest of our lives and the purchase was a demonstration of our being vested in the community I served.
Moving here was in part coming back to my roots not only in the South but also the area. While I was not born and raised here, my ancestral roots in the area date back to the 1780s, depending on the branch of the family tree. Ancestral surnames from the area are Taylor, Peacock, Lamb, Hill, Patterson and Barksdale. After starting work, I discovered three distant cousins and another by a distant marriage. Why mention this? To provoke the question of why would someone invested in the community with deep historical ties leave after such a short period? This is even more important considering my love of the hospital, staff and area.
To date, I have expressed my reason for moving to
My wife, Lori, has shared a number of thoughts about the school in an editorial letter. I will add several comments. These are my frustration with the unwillingness of the school to take the steps necessary to provide adequate special educational activities as required by law. They are at great risk of lawsuit for those who are so inclined. Fortunately for them, I am not one of them; others may not be so generous. It seems that not hurting people’s feelings is more important than confronting tough issues. My condemnation is not of the people but of the system that allows for this. The people have been kind and considerate.
Even in regular classes, little real teaching is done. This varies from teacher to teacher, with some good and even great teachers. It seems showing videos has become a common method of filling class time. The videos typically are not based on the curriculum, if there is an established curriculum at all being followed. It seems that established curriculum and learning objectives no longer exist as a standard to teach by and to guide the learning experience.
Substitute teachers are often aides or other school employees rather than actual teachers. Attendance at a three-hour training course does not make someone a “fit” substitute, merely a better option than leaving students on their own. Some substitutes have been known to tell the class to read and then proceed to sleep or occupy themselves on their laptop. This sounds bad enough, but the use of ear buds isolates them even more as they pay little if any attention to students and provide no learning opportunity.
Teachers are told to make sure students pass, even if it means providing supplemental points to edge the score above the point of failing. Students lose all ambition to excel in this environment of mediocrity and blatant apathy. The school system alone is enough to cause families to leave.
Commissioners’ effect on me as CEO
As CEO, I reported to the hospital trustees, not the county commissioners. The hospital board is appointed to govern the hospital on behalf of the county and the commission. The CEO is the board-designated person to manage the operations of the hospital. It is, however, common practice for commissioners to become involved in the operational activities (micro-management) of the hospital seeking to bypass both the board and the CEO. Frequently and even publicly, commissioners have provided me with direction contrary to the hospital board. For some reason commissioners feel they have a better understanding of hospital operations and business than the hospital board and leaders. Such direction of the commission may or may not be based on a vote of the overall commission but instead a single individual.
Frequently, as CEO I was contacted by various commissioners and given direction based on the personal agenda of the commissioner. During my tenure, I have been told whom to hire, to fire or not fire, and to give a raise to. In one instance, I was told to do whatever it took the keep a person employed despite the fact I could not legally do so. When I confronted the commissioner with the legality of this, I was told “you’re the CEO, figure it out.” I did what was legally correct and suffered the wrath of the commissioner.
I have been told to write off bills of constituents and friends. Generally, commissioners expect to have no out-of-pocket costs and certainly are shielded from collection efforts.
Commissioners have become the de facto persons for community members or staff to go to with complaints or concerns rather than using established procedures to handle these. One commissioner told me “if I get chewed out, you’re going to get chewed out too.” I am not saying the hospital is perfect, as it is not, but this is not how to handle patient and family concerns. Direct them to the CEO or staff and allow them the chance to solve the problem.
My qualifications have been publicly questioned and various commissioners have regularly berated me. In seeking to provide my CEO report to the commission, I am rightfully asked questions. However, in my attempts to respond, I am frequently interrupted and even told not to continue with my explanation as apparently the commissioners didn’t want to hear it. The commission meetings are not an effective means of communicating as useful dialogue becomes impractical or even impossible.
To improve this communication, the hospital board and I have asked the Commission to appoint and send a representative to the board meetings. They have failed to do so, despite the fact this would be the best way of keeping them and us informed. When questioned about this, a commissioner recently admitted the decision was political. An individual commissioner might not want to serve, but at the same time does not want another to do so because of political advantage gained, thus no consensus can be achieved for an appointment.
Topics and questions brought up become political footballs and commissioners’ responses are often for the purpose of saving face or gaining political points. Commission meetings are often characterized by grandstanding to rally constituent support. This is not to say there have not been times of good and appropriate comments, but instead too often they are not. The antics of the commission are acknowledged in the community with chuckles, a shake of the head and the comment “well, you know how the commission is.”
Most commissioners support the idea of healthcare as a necessary service but this is not the same as being advocates for the hospital that they should be. Compare their reluctant support of the hospital to their advocacy for those working on the bay, or those in need, and you will see a marked difference. The hospital seems to be a burden, rather than a wonderful asset. Just watch the commission videos and notice the commissioners are pleasantly sociable to the county directors, even thanking them and wishing them a good week. Contrast this to my time in front of them, exemplified by confrontation, stern faces and lack of cordiality.
During my tenure, the commissioners have never asked me what they can do to assist and support the hospital. The Commission should be the hospital’s best advocate, rather than a reluctant partner who looks down on us. The Commission should be doing everything possible to make the hospital more viable and robust.
At the May county meeting, commissioners expressed that they wanted to be involved in the CEO selection process, implying that by their involvement, the next selection would be more successful. This comment suggested that the hospital board did an inadequate job, and that the current CEO, myself, was deficient due to leaving. Have they considered this is type of mindset is exactly the problem and that they are a large part of the reason that qualified CEOs do not stay?
No thank-you or best wishes
At the July 1 county commission meeting, I encountered the usual challenge to the hospital’s and my performance. Interestingly, both our chief financial officer and a physician who spoke mentioned various improvements realized at Weems during my tenure. I am not saying it was all due to me as it was not, but it was during my stay and the result of a lot of my staff and leaders I had the privilege to work with. As the meeting was closed out, there was no recognition of my hard work and positive impact on the organization, staff or patients. I heard no thank you or best wishes from the commissioners.
While here, I was regularly urged to recognize the staff, to let them know they were appreciated and seek to retain them. This was rightfully offered as the staff at the hospital, ambulance and clinics are wonderful and qualified people that make Weems a success. Unfortunately, the commission forgets the CEO and other hospital leaders are people too, who look to be appreciated and fulfilled in their jobs. The majority of my experience in communicating with the commission is completely contrary to this concept. Why do we leave? Perhaps it is because we don’t feel recognized, appreciated and even welcomed.
The bottom line related to the county commission is that I was tired of being beat-up, disrespected and not having confidence my job would survive the next year, much less another 10 years due to the unpredictability of the commission. These comments are not directed in any manner toward the hospital board as they are exactly the opposite, given they are engaged, supportive, communicative, and not micromanaging. They are one of the best boards I have worked for. The staff is wonderful and I enjoyed my days because of them. I looked forward each day to going to work. I loved the area, my job and the people. It is too bad the commission and schools made it impossible to realize my dream of finishing out my career and the remainder of my life here.
Quickly, for the county commissioners, you need to:
1. Stay out of the hospital’s business allowing the board to govern, and the CEO under their direction and oversight to operate the hospital,
2. Advocate for the hospital and seek every opportunity to make it more successful, by seeking and providing additional sources of revenue such as indigent tax or conversion of such tax to construction tax assuring the viability of the proposed new and renovated facility.
3. Be an ambassador for the hospital, expressing the good things the hospital does and the benefit to the community and county.
My best wishes to my friends and coworkers. You will be missed.