Enloe party, protesters and positive news

SEEN—AND HEARD? <br>Outside a celebration honoring Enloe’s CEO and board, protesters voice opposition to actions of those very same people.

Outside a celebration honoring Enloe’s CEO and board, protesters voice opposition to actions of those very same people.

Photo By Robert Speer

Last Friday (June 2) should have been Dan Neumeister’s big day. His employer, Enloe Health System, was hosting a long-planned soirée that afternoon in celebration of his elevation to the position of chief executive officer and to welcome a new Board of Trustees, and dozens of local dignitaries—including two former city managers and a retiring county supervisor—and business people were present. Inside the Enloe Conference Center, they munched on canapés and made small talk.

All present were well aware, however, that Neumeister’s big day was fraught with irony. The very trustees being honored were in the process of deciding whether, or perhaps even how, to fire the CEO being honored. If ever mention was made of the, ahem, situation, it was done discreetly, in soft voices.

It certainly couldn’t be ignored altogether. Anyone coming to the party had to pass by a group of about 50 protesters gathered on the sidewalk outside the center whose very purpose was to call attention to the controversy surrounding Neumeister. They even had a public address system to help them do so—and a television camera recording their complaints.

They were an eclectic bunch. Most were service workers at the hospital, members of the Service Employees International Union/ United Healthcare Workers who were protesting Enloe’s continued unwillingness to certify a representation election that they believe they won three years ago. They wore white T-shirts emblazoned with a cartoon of Neumeister’s face with a red cross-out stripe across it.

Some nurses were also present, as were at least three doctors, along with representatives of a group calling itself the Community Benefit Coalition, a group led at the demonstration by local Democratic Party activist Randall Stone.

Collectively, their message—delivered by a series of speakers standing behind a large paper banner reading “Give Us Back Our Community Hospital"—was that Neumeister and his administration had managed to alienate every major group at the hospital—doctors, nurses and service workers—by not taking their concerns seriously and using heavy-handed, even arrogant tactics to get their way.

Standing on the edge of the crowd was Dr. Dan Thomas, the chief of the medical staff at the hospital. He’d come directly from an hours-long meeting between the hospital’s Medical Executive Committee—composed of the doctors heading up the various departments—and the Board of Trustees, and he bore good news, in a vague way.

Speaking to reporters, he said the two groups had agreed not to discuss specifics about their meeting and would be issuing a joint statement sometime soon. In the meantime, he said, “I suspect the board would agree with me that it was a positive meeting, that progress was made, and that we all hope to continue making progress.”

Thomas and nearly all of the doctors are adamant that Neumeister be replaced, so Thomas’ optimism could be taken as a sign that the trustees are beginning to understand the depth of their concern. The doctors are also insistent that the anesthesiology crisis at the hospital be solved as soon as possible, which can be done only by resuming negotiations with Anesthesia Associates of Chico, whose members provided anesthesia services at the hospital until mid-May.

That was when the current crisis began. Unable to reach agreement on a new contract, Neumeister stopped negotiating with AAC and instead formed a new group of anesthesiologists under Dr. Duane Menafee. Four of the AAC doctors, frustrated by the negotiations, had quit earlier, and eight more quit at this point, leaving just four anesthesiologists and whatever fill-in doctors could be found to do the work once done by 16 people.

Without anesthesiologists much of the work of the hospital can’t go on, and reports of low censuses and employees being sent home have been widespread in recent weeks.

Also present at the demonstration were Drs. Jerry and Diane Gill. She’s one of the eight anesthesiologists who quit their jobs in May. Her husband is a physician in the hospital’s emergency room. Both will be leaving Chico soon if the hospital doesn’t work something out with AAC.

“I would cancel my trip to Maryland if I could,” Diane Gill told a reporter, referring to an employment interview coming up in a few days. Later, speaking to the crowd, she noted her family had lived in Chico for six years. “I love Chico, I love this community, I want to stay here,” she said. “Most of the anesthesiologists want to stay.”

Later that day, the Board of Trustees released a statement about meeting with the Medical Executive Committee. “There was overwhelming support for a decision,” it read, “and commitment to not publicly comment on the issues under consideration. We intend to honor that commitment.”

As of Tuesday, June 6, there had been no further meetings between either the MEC or the AAC and the Board of Trustees and no further public statements, joint or otherwise, on anyone’s part.