The Block Island Times
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New executive director hired for Med. Ctr.

By Gloria S. Redlich | Dec 22, 2012

President Pam Hinthorn of Block Island Health Services Board of Directors announced on December 17 the selection of a new executive director, Barbara F. Baldwin, who is to take up the post on February 1, 2013.

Hinthorn also said the center has been unable to balance its budget and will ask the town for increased support.

Addressing an audience of some 30 islanders at a meeting that at times became tense, Hinthorn noted that Baldwin would work through January with Interim Director Peter Baute “to provide a smooth transition.”

Without further elaboration, Hinthorn distributed a press release, providing details of Baldwin’s background. It said she has “a long history of employment in the health care industry; between 1977 and 2000, she served as Executive Director of Planned Parenthood… in Rhode Island, Utah, Tennessee and Georgia.”

From 2000 on, she “managed large collaborative programs focusing on cancer care and children’s health, serving for the past five years as the Program Manager for the Rhode Island Healthy Kids Initiative.” Her responsibilities have included grant writing and administration, as well as “strategic planning, quality assurance, marketing and fundraising.”

The statement cites Baldwin’s skills in “organizational management, budgeting, financial operations and managerial accounting,” and says she has worked successfully “with boards and volunteers… and [has] significant experience with political action groups and public relations.”

Baldwin has a bachelor’s in economics from Denison University in Ohio and nine hours short of an MBA from Westminster College. She and her family have spent many vacations on island, and she is said to have been drawn to this position by “her love of the island.”

Hinthorn also reported that the board’s most recent meeting with the Town Council hammering out a management agreement between the two parties “was a very positive meeting.” She said that though the board was still waiting for “a draft from the town,” she felt “we’re on common ground.”

Public asks to be heard

Hinthorn read a letter to the board written by island resident Gerry Comeau, who posed five questions to the board that she requested be answered at the meeting. Hinthorn cautioned that because the room at the Town Hall was only available for an hour and a half and the board had its normal agenda to get through, there might not be enough time.

From the audience, Pat Doyle objected: “There are a number of us who agree this letter should be answered. We believe as much time as is needed should be [spent on] issues raised.”

Board member Judith Cyronak suggested setting aside 30 minutes to public comment at the end. Sue Gibbons asked if it wouldn’t “be more respectful of the public to consider their issues first.”

Cyronak said she would agree to splitting the time to 15 minutes at the beginning and 15 toward the end of the meeting. Doyle said that many in the community felt as though “their efforts are rebuffed by an attitude of the board that ‘We know what is best.’ You make it so difficult for the public; none of the community’s ideas are acknowledged, but I want you to know people are prompted by their civic duty.”

Secretary Kay Lewis said, “I respectfully disagree: we’ve made strenuous efforts to respond. We’ve even gone along with a change in our bylaws. And the search committee in response to public interest agreed to make public that there were 18 applications received for the director’s job. I do think there’s been an attempt to accommodate the desires of the town.”

Bylaws changes

The change in bylaws Lewis mentioned related to a vote at the board’s December 7 meeting at which the group voted to revise the process in which directors of the board might be removed. The revision reads: “At any annual or special meeting of the dues-paying membership, at which a quorum is present, a majority of those present may vote to conduct a recall election of any member holding a member-elected seat.”

The emphasis here is on member-elected, in which category seven directors are listed — only they would be subject to this kind of recall. The distribution of other members is as follows: one appointed by the Town Council, one by the Rescue Squad, and two elected by the voting public on island. These members would be subject to recall only by agreement of their appointing boards or by a public vote.

Timing of appointment challenged

Doyle pointed to Comeau’s first question, which was ‘Should the medical center be hiring an executive director before the contract with the town is signed?’ Doyle agreed that this “was not the time to have signed a contract” when much was still unresolved between the board and the council.

Baute said while he respected Doyle’s ideas, he’d been in the interim post for nearly five months and was anxious to get on to “some other things I want to get done, and we need someone better than I.”

He said if the town decided not to renew the contract with BIHS, it would “still need to run a medical center in the interim and it may take six to twelve months [to do so].” However, he added that from the last joint meeting, “it sounded… as if there will be a contract. We can’t let this go out of business like a shoe store.”

Request for an accounting

Discussion then turned on Comeau’s second question: “Should we have an accounting of BIHS’s financial condition and how they plan to improve it?” Audience member Fraser Lang said he’d learned from accountant Bruce Eagleson that the amount to be drawn from the endowment would not be $125,000 as originally announced, but rather $211,000, and he was trying to understand how this had happened.

Finance director Pete Tweedy said, “Fraser and I discussed this at length. There was no conceivable reason why I would want to convey wrong information.” Cyronak added, “We were looking at a cash-flow problem for the end of the year.”

Though Hinthorn attempted to return to the regular agenda, newly elected member Bill McCombe said “We’ve got a serious problem with the budget,” adding he didn’t want “to see anyone in this room not get their questions addressed.” To that end, he proposed continuing the meeting to the next morning.

As the regular discussion of the budget draft continued, McCombe asked acting Financial Director Peter Tweedy about legal expenses incurred last year, relating these — some $17,000 in fees — to a “change in Monty’s position.” (His reference was to the dismissal of Monty Stover as executive director early last summer.) McCombe noted that in prior years “we had very low legal fees.”

Saying legal costs were only a small part of the issue, Tweedy explained he was looking for ways “to reduce costs” — including those for medical supplies, maintenance and security, and air-conditioning. (See sidebar).

Money from the town

Cyronak said, “We’re budgeting conservatively.” However, she added, “There’s been no increase in town funding in many years.” Lewis observed that “All of our fund-raising has gone to the operational budget. The campaign to withhold funds hurt us a great deal this year.” Another area she pointed to as critical was reimbursements — that is, the need to bring down accounts receivable.

With Tweedy’s acknowledgement that the center was not showing a budget “in the black,” Cyronak reiterated a need to look to the town. “I think it’s incumbent upon us to make a case to the town that we need more money,” she said.

Lewis reminded the board and audience that there “never has been a time when patient revenues came close to paying our expenses. It is a structural problem for health centers.” She explained it was “not a big surprise to us,” pointing out that was the reason the board began to look elsewhere for affiliations. (She was referring to investigations the board made over the past year looking at a potential management agreement with Thundermist Health Centers.)

Offering “a couple of words of optimism,” Baute said in 2011, “$40,000 in debt was paid, $13,000 for incentives was not justified” and insurance costs were down $7,000. He suggested that “if the town might add perhaps $30,000,” that might help significantly to reduce expenses. He added that with a new executive director, "there comes a substantial savings from last year.”

That savings, Hinthorn said when reached after the meeting — without factoring in a housing allowance the new director will get — fell in the range of $15,000 to $20,000. She added that the new position was full-time.

The board generally agreed that more fundraising must be undertaken with the hope that additional monies might be brought in. When Doyle asked whether Baldwin would be involved in fundraising, Tweedy said, “She will be taking a major role in fundraising. She has quite a bit of experience.”

Edie Blane asked, "What will the total [salary and housing] be?" Hinthorn replied that protocol prevented her from making individual salaries public.

McCombe said, “I think of us as quasi-public… and think we need to clarify the grounds of private and public issues.” To that end, he again urged scheduling the next meeting soon.

The board voted to continue budget discussion to another meeting.

Clarifying roles

Comeau’s third question was “When the new director is hired, will the other temporary replacements leave, i.e., Jim Hinthorn, Pete Tweedy and his assistant [presumably accountant Bruce Eagleson]?" Though unanswered at the meeting itself, in a post-meeting discussion, Hinthorn explained, “Jim Hinthorn [currently] has nothing to do with the board.” At one point over a year ago, she said, he did serve on the Human Resources Committee to help develop a job description for each of the center’s employees. She emphasized that was the extent of his involvement with the board.

As for Tweedy, who is now serving as Interim Finance Director, Hinthorn pointed out he was not a paid member of BIHS, but rather served as treasurer on the board and as chair of the finance committee, where his responsibilities include working with the board and executive director. Eagleson, Hinthorn said, was employed as a contracted consultant, paid for services by the hour and without benefits.

Hoping there might be an opportunity to set up an open meeting with the public to continue to air concerns, Hinthorn said the next regular meeting was scheduled for 3 p.m., January 7, at Town Hall.

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