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BRH's work environment under investigation

Bartlett Hospital threatened with $50 million lawsuit

Posted: July 10, 2013 - 12:07am
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Ron Gardner, husband of Susan Gardner the Director Materials Management at Bartlett Regional Hospital, stands outside the administration building at Bartlett after the board of directors went into executive session on Tuesday. Gardner posed several questions to the board regarding executive leadership at the hospital.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Ron Gardner, husband of Susan Gardner the Director Materials Management at Bartlett Regional Hospital, stands outside the administration building at Bartlett after the board of directors went into executive session on Tuesday. Gardner posed several questions to the board regarding executive leadership at the hospital.

Bartlett Regional Hospital’s executives and board members responded to questions posed two weeks ago by the husband of an employee who is alleging abusive behavior from hospital managers. He said he is considering a $50 million lawsuit against the hospital.

The City and Borough of Juneau last month hired an outside contractor to conduct an investigation into complaints of harassment, verbal threats and an overall hostile work environment at Bartlett.

Deborah Schorr of Schorr Advocacy & Investigative Services in Juneau is the private investigator hired by the city to investigate “potential personnel matters,” according to City Attorney Amy Mead. Schorr did not respond to calls for comment.

Schorr has been contracted for investigations by the CBJ in the past and was hired at the beginning of June.

“She’s done about a week’s worth of work,” Mead said in mid-June.

At the June meeting of the Bartlett Regional Hospital Board of Directors, public participation concerning the investigation prompted an immediate recess into executive session.

“I’ve got six questions I’d like to ask the board and senior leadership,” Ron Gardner, husband of Susan Gardner, the materials manager at BRH, said. “I’d like to ask the questions before they get answered.”

Gardner asked why the Human Resources System Administrator, Nora Adams, was on executive staff.

“That seems like a conflict of interest to me,” said Gardner.

Gardner also wanted to know whether executive staff members were allowed to continue working during an investigation, if senior leadership had been asked to leave a hospital for matters concerning hostile work environments and how many employees had left the hospital since the current leadership took over eight months ago.

After Gardner’s questions, the board moved to table approval of the minutes from its previous meeting before entering executive session.

Gardner speculated the rollover of personnel was indicative of actions by executive staff members who joined last year.

The Hospital Board’s president sees things differently.

“We have not seen a significant change in previous months,” Linda Thomas, BRH president said about recent fluxes in staff. Thomas said they were comparable to previous years, saying that seasonal workers and temporary hires are factors.

According to public records, during the first three quarters of fiscal year 2013, there were 82 new hires at BRH. In the same time, 125 left the hospital.

Of the 125 that left, 46 were voluntary resignations and nine were involuntary.

Christine Harff, Bartlett’s chief executive officer, joined in August 2012, BRH chief financial officer Kendall Brough joined staff in September 2012 and BRH human resources system administrator Norma Adams joined staff in May 2012.

The human resources system administrator was on executive staff as a decision made by Harff, one that she said was common on past boards.

“To exclude them from the leadership team, I have not seen,” Harff said.

When asked whether it was difficult to separate her duties between executives and staff, Adams said, “It’s part of the job. You have to walk a fine line.”

The Executive Committee offered no comment on the investigation.

The BRH Community Relations Director, Jim Strader, declined to comment on personnel matters, but said that moving into executive session, as happened in June, was fairly common as they’d changed the agenda for the evening.

As the board met in executive session two weeks ago, Gardner told the Empire that an investigation into personnel matters was underway and audiotapes are among the evidence against the hospital that document the abuse.

“I think it’s a joke,” Gardner said. “I think the whole board and the senior leadership is a joke.”

Gardner said that his attorney is waiting to file a $50 million lawsuit against the hospital, but the suit has been stayed several times in past months.

• Contact reporter Kenneth Rosen at 523-2250 or at kenneth.rosen@juneauempire.com.

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