Weems Memorial Hospital has a new CEO, but the county commission made it clear Tuesday he has benchmarks to meet.
At a continuance of the morning meeting Tuesday afternoon, county commissioners agreed to accept the hospital board’s recommendation for a new CEO but made changes to the contract.
Weems received 60 applications for the position recently vacated by Ray Brownsworth. Of these, 17 were selected for further consideration by the Tallahassee Memorial Hospital Career Center and the Weems advisory board. The hospital board discussed each candidate and targeted seven for a Skype interview held June 13. Three candidates were identified for an onsite interview.
Of these three, Mike Cooper was the board’s final choice, and offered a $150,000 annual salary, $10,000 sign-on bonus and up to $6,000 for a temporary housing allotment.
When hospital board chair Jim Bachrach appeared before commissioners Tuesday morning, and asked them to confirm Cooper as the new CEO, he was met with questions.
“When we finished (interviewing Cooper) I said ‘I think that’s our guy,’” Bachrach told commissioners.
He said that all members of the board and staff were present at the interview an all agreed Cooper was the best candidate. “Every board member said, there’s absolutely no question. He’s ready to work and move this hospital along,” Bachrach said.
He said Cooper has a 30-year history of working in critical issue hospitals. An Indiana native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in business management from Indiana University Southeast and a master’s in health services management from Webster University in Jeffersonville, Missouri. Cooper worked his way up the hospital administration ranks, and was CEO of St. Benedicts Family Medical Center in Jerome, Idaho; CEO of Dunn Memorial Hospital in Bedford, Indiana; and CEO at Breckinridge Health, Inc. in Hardinsburg, Kentucky.
But this information wasn’t provided the county commissioners until a day or two prior.
“I don’t have any information on him,” said County Chair Cheryl Sanders. “I really hate to ratify somebody without looking at his resume. All I’ve got was this from Heather (Huron) and that was Friday night. I’m not going to put my John Hancock on anything until I see more than this.
“As a board chairman, you need to do a better job of communicating,” Sanders told Bachrach. “Not getting the resume until just now, that’s uncalled for. Until the people of Franklin County have a public hearing to find out what’s going on, I’m not signing anything.”
“Do we have his contract?” asked Commissioner Pinki Jackel. ”We’d like to see the contract and I think the county attorney would like to see it too.”
“Mike’s on his way,” Bachrach said. “Your (hospital) board and staff unanimously think he’s the right person. It was beyond unanimous. I think it’s only fair we give him a shot. Is there any way we can facilitate this? He’s halfway here and he’s leased a house.”
Commissioner Smokey Parrish said it appeared Cooper had experience working in critical access facilities.
“It seems we have board members who have additional concerns. I don’t know any way to expedite it other than a special meeting,” Parrish said.
“We don’t even know what we’re paying him,” said Jackel.
Bachrach said the salary was similar to Brownsworth’s, around $150,000.
“When is he supposed to start work?” asked Commissioner Noah Lockley. Bachrach said Cooper was scheduled to begin work Wednesday morning, August 6.
Jackel said there was a lack of communication between the hospital CEO, chief financial officer, county commission and the hospital board.
She specifically referred to a letter by former Weems CEO Brownsworth published in the July 24 Times, in which he leveled charges against the commissioners for excessive involvement in hospital affairs, “This strikes at the heart of the lack of communication,” said Jackel. “It is wrong to throw stones while you are running away and bellyache after you have accepted $300,000 for a job not well done.
“We need the hospital board to explain the letter. Silence of the board is to consent to the contents of the letter. To accuse us of interference is outrageous. I have been publicly called a fool, stupid and a snuff spitter. I refuse to not defend my position and be a coward, as Mr. Brownsworth has shown himself to be,” she said.
Jackel asked Pierce to tell the commissioners about a conversation he had with Bachrach regarding the George E. Weems Hospital District created in 1955. Bachrach said he had asked about the district purely for information.
Pierce said, as a special district, the hospital board had the right to raise taxes.
“Would that remove the (county commission) from involvement (in hospital administration)?” asked Jackel.
Pierce said the district exists on paper only and has no assets.
“If we didn’t micromanage, the county wouldn’t have a hospital,” Sanders said. “We took $1.5 million out of an Alligator Point project so the county to keep medical services. I wish there was a way we had more control sometimes because I don’t think we have enough doctors. That’s why I say ‘Embrace your local providers. Without them we are nothing.’”
Jackel asked if Bachrach could provide the board and Shuler with copies of the contract. He said he could.
“There’s no way we can move on this quickly,” Sanders said. “It will be two weeks. It’s going to be August 20.”
Bachrach asked, “Do you want me to call him now and tell him to turn around?”
Parrish suggested the board schedule a meeting for the afternoon and decide whether to confirm Cooper after studying the contract.
When the board reconvened at 1:30 p.m., Shuler said he had a few questions about the contract offered Cooper.
Under the agreement, in addition to the $10,000 “sign-on bonus” and $1,000 a month for six months as a rent allowance plus salary, Cooper receives six-months’ severance of both benefits and pay if he is dismissed, but not if he resigns.
Shuler asked for guidance about two paragraphs in the agreement.
Under paragraph five, the chairman of the hospital board would have the option of awarding the hospital CEO with up to a 10 percent bonus at the end of his first year, if he met certain benchmarks to the satisfaction of the hospital board.
Under paragraph 11, if the CEO determines that his duties and authority have been diminished to the point where he is no longer acting as CEO, he could terminate his contract and still receive severance. “There are probably reasons for it that I don’t get and you don’t get,” Bachrach said. “Let’s just take it out.”
Shuler also said it was not clear that the contract was for one year. Bachrach said the board intended the contract for a single year and asked Shuler to correct the discrepancy.
The board then discussed allowing the chair of the hospital board to award a 10 percent bonus.
“I don’t agree with it,” Lockley said. “This is Franklin County. We are small. We are not Tallahassee. We already gave him a bonus with that salary.”
Jackel said a bonus was unnecessary. “The things you’ve got on here are a basic part of his job,” she said. “If he doesn’t meet the benchmarks, he needs to go.”
Bachrach countered that “a person at his level needs financial incentives.”
Jackel replied that “$150,000 a year is a pretty good incentive to do the job.”
Lockley noted that “we are trying to give the hospital employees benefits. How do we do that and keep going through a revolving door with the CEOs?”
Bachrach was unwilling to dismiss the bonus idea out of hand. “If this guy does as good a job as I think he will, we can come back in a year and ask for (a bonus),” he said.
The board voted unanimously to ratify the contract, but to delete paragraph 11 and remove the optional bonus mentioned in paragraph five, leaving the benchmarks for performance in place.