A hospital and two realities

Employees defend hospital and its leadership; others say problems exist

Posted: Wednesday, April 21, 2010

At a standing-room-only special meeting of the Bartlett hospital board Tuesday evening, about 30 Bartlett Regional Hospital employees and medical staff testified about the culture and working environment at the hospital. Those people, from departments ranging from maintenance and nursing to Human Resources, expressed widely varying points of view on the working culture at the hospital. Some called it a "culture of family," others called it "a culture of fear." Some said it was both.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

The meeting was called as a result of the Assembly meeting last week where hospital personnel expressed concerns, said hospital board chairman Dr. Nathan Peimann.

Nurse Cindy Day said she sees two realities at Bartlett - the reality on one side of the street (in the administration building) and the reality on the other side (the frontline hospital staff).

Day said she has worked 16 hour shifts with no breaks.

"We don't get lunch breaks, we don't get union sanctioned breaks," she said. "I would say 98 to 99 percent of the time I don't get a 15 minute break."

Social Work case manager Laura Dameron said she is one of those who see a disconnect, with "a lot of wonderful staff on the front line doing everything they can and not always feeling the support that they need."

"Yes, I feel threatened," she said. "Our department has been very vocal. At this point we figure we all have a target on our back."

Others said they were upset by Friday's article in the Juneau Empire, titled "Employees decry 'culture of fear' at Bartlett."

"Honestly, I'm not sure if I work in the same hospital as those representing the hospital in the article. I have never experienced fear.... I don't believe a handful of folks have a right to speak... for everyone," said nursing administration employee Eileen Jones, becoming emotional. "It breaks my heart to see the hospital divided like this."

Respiratory therapist Cynthia Driggers said Bartlett is one of the best places she has ever worked.

"This is the only place that I even know the senior leadership," she said. "Here I feel like I can talk to anybody about anything. There are some areas, I'm sure, that are understaffed, but it is a huge issue all over the United States, way worse than it is at Bartlett."

Cheryl Aceves, who works in HR, said she has been "in each and every senior leader's office with a complaint or a question at one point or another" without any fear of retribution.

Staff nurse Mary Donlon said while she personally is very happy, she sees more than just "a handful" of people who aren't.

"To call this unhappiness a small group of people that are poisoning this place kind of scares me. It's not poison. These are incredible people I would want taking care of me," she said, responding to others' comments.

Donlon said many people have confided in her about their concerns. "And they're not here. These are people who have been here for 25 years," she said.

Clinical analyst and registered nurse Kim Corrette, whose picture ran with Friday's article, said she and registered nurse Martha Leak, who testified at Wednesday's Assembly meeting and was quoted in the article, were told "to lie low" and not "stick their necks out" on Friday.

"How open is the door when the moment you talk about the hospital in a city meeting, you're reprimanded the day the article comes out?" she said.

Tracy Moore, an operating room scheduler, said she agrees with "so many people on so many different levels."

"We do have a culture of family, and the reality is we do have a culture of fear here," she said. "I know the people who are talking and I believe them."

Employees overwhelmingly said Bartlett still offers very good quality of patient care.

After public testimony, the board went into executive session to discuss its strategy moving forward. Peimann thanked those who had testified and said the board will be looking for a process so those who felt afraid to express their point of view could do so.

• Contact reporter Mary Catharine Martin at 523-2276 or maryc.martin@juneauempire.com.

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