Confusion mars BIHS hearing on doctor's resignation
The Meeting Room at Town Hall was packed for a special meeting called by the Block Island Health Services board following Dr. Janice Miller’s sudden resignation on March 31. The purpose of the meeting, held in part to discuss how best to find a successor to Dr. Miller, was dimmed somewhat by glitches in phone technology. The specter of the controversial dismissal of the medical center’s chief administrator a few years ago also hovered over the meeting.
Board President Bob Fallon and two other board members, Sue Hagedorn and Al Casazza, were connected from remote locations. However, they appeared unable to hear either their colleagues on the board or members of the audience. Communication over the phone lines became increasingly confusing, with repeated interruptions ultimately leading to a tense moment in which Fallon misunderstood what an audience member said.
Purpose of the meeting
Miller’s resignation was originally announced by BIHS Executive Director Barbara Baldwin. In his opening remarks, Fallon said the reason for the meeting was to accept Miller’s resignation with regret, to thank her in a public forum for her 13 years of service to the island community and to develop the process of searching for a successor.
He expressed his own gratitude for Miller’s extensive contributions to the island community, as did other board members as well. Fallon’s initial remarks came across clearly. He also added that Miller had requested the board not release her letter to the public.
Throughout all the exchanges that followed, board members on the phone continued to have difficulties in hearing what those in the room said, repeatedly asking “Who is that speaking? What did he or she say?”
Glitch triggers misunderstanding
When several members of the public rose to comment on Miller’s resignation and on the upcoming search, several objected to the use of phone technology in place of members’ actual presence at board meetings. Among these was island resident Nancy Greenaway who said, “It [the phone connection] is not working; people should be present.”
Standing to support her comments, islander Norris Pike said, “I want to echo what Nancy Greenaway said. It’s important for a board such as this one to have everyone here. Maybe you should change your bylaws.”
Though it was unclear precisely what Fallon thought he’d heard, addressing Pike, he said, “No, no, no. You can’t accuse the board of harassing the doctor.” Immediately jumping in, Vice President Cindy Baute said, “No, Bob, no! You heard wrong. Norris just reiterated what Nancy Greenaway said.” It took a few moments for Baute to get through to Fallon and clarify that situation.
Fallon explained Miller’s decision was based on the desire to find “a better job, with a better salary in order to better provide for her family.”
When Pete Tweedy made a motion “to regretfully accept Dr. Miller’s resignation along with our thanks,” board member Bill McCombe said, “This resignation is very sudden. I have not even received [a copy of] the letter yet.” He then suggested that the board “table the vote to see if there is anything to do to have her [Miller] rescind her resignation.”
Fallon responded that Miller had “made it clear she would not change her mind.”
Audience member Peter Saxon pressed the board for an explanation for Miller’s decision, noting, “The doctor at the medical center is a very important person in a center that is being under-utilized. We need to know why, as a community, Dr. Miller has resigned. Two years ago our executive director was fired. Let’s not have people hiding behind a curtain. At least tell us why.”
Repeating his earlier assertion that the board was committed to protecting the confidentiality of Miller’s letter because of her request, Fallon said, “I will not release anything to the public without her permission.”
Getting on with a search
In addition to her objections to the use of a phone system, Greenaway addressed the issue of getting together a search committee: “A board such as this one, with its wonderfully talented group of people should meet directly... I don’t want a lot of time spent on finding a search committee. You should serve as that committee and bring in specialists to support you [as needed],” she said.
Also attempting to turn the board back to what she felt was the critical issue at hand, a fourth islander, Naomi Kerest, weighed in. “This kind of discussion is a waste of time,” she said. “We have a very pressing matter here, the resignation of a physician to take care of us. The medical center is an essential place for this community. We need to address the problem. I think talking long distance is ridiculous. If you can’t be at the meeting so be it.”
There was considerable discussion of how and when to go about searching for a replacement with several board members urging the need to do so immediately. Among these was board member Kay Lewis, who said, “I agree with the others [that] we need to get going on the search. I’m wondering can we go ahead and post the opening before anything else.”
Expressing gratitude for Dr. Miller’s “giving us all this time” — Miller’s last day is Dec. 1 — Lewis added, “I really appreciate this, but could we go ahead and advertise the vacancy? I would urge us to move ahead so we don’t get caught.”
Debate continued about whether an open letter thanking Miller should be published before or after the position was marketed or a public search was launched. Former island nurse Mary Donnelly said, “I don’t think you should do anything before sending a ‘thank you’ letter to Dr. Miller because it’s common courtesy.”
Concurring, Casazza said, “I suggest we put a letter in the paper before we look for a replacement.”
After further discussion about the appropriate venue in which to express thanks — and in spite of several more disruptions in communication — board members agreed to send Miller a personal letter. They also agreed that the process of searching for a replacement should go forward. Miller has agreed to remain in her post until Dec. 1, 2014.
The board’s next meeting is scheduled for April 28.