Enloe trustees treading water

Will Enloe Medical Center CEO Dan Neumeister hang onto his job?

If the hospital’s doctors have their way, he won’t. They resoundingly voted no confidence in him last week, and their chief of staff says he needs to go. But, based on what the hospital’s trustees are saying, his future remains up in the air.

Noting they were “extremely concerned” about the vote of no confidence, the trustees on Monday promised “to resolve the issues surrounding the vote.”

In a statement released after a six-hour meeting that day, the trustees said only that they would “follow established procedures and due process” in resolving what has turned into a crisis of governance at the medical center.

In a subsequent interview, one of the trustees, longtime Chico attorney Carl Leverenz, elaborated. He told CN&R the trustees had an “open mind” on the subject and that, if it’s appropriate following their investigation, they “would take steps as far as Dan is concerned.”

The confidence vote was conducted last week by Dan Thomas, M.D., the medical chief of staff. By the time it ended on Friday (May 19), the doctors had registered a resounding vote of no confidence in Neumeister, 116-16.

That day, Thomas sent out a letter to the medical staff. Saying he’d met the evening before with Neumeister and Betty Dean, who chairs the Board of Trustees, he wrote that he’d told them that the vote didn’t represent “an isolated and emotional response to one issue and one meeting"—he was referring to Neumeister’s recent conflict with the hospital’s anesthesiologists (see “Behind the doctors’ walkout,” CN&R Newslines, May 17)—but rather “was based on years of experience in how he treated the Medical Staff and the rest of the individuals working at Enloe Medical Center.”

He wrote that he told Dean and Neumeister that, “according to the overwhelming majority of physicians at the hospital, the first essential step is that Dan Neumeister be removed from his position” and that “the community and the employees of the hospital would not have confidence and trust in Dan Neumeister when the physicians’ views of him were so clear.”

He intended to tell the trustees the same thing at their Monday meeting, he said.

Apparently, the trustees were surprised at that meeting by the vehemence of the doctors’ disapproval of Neumeister.

“Candidly, we were a little blindsided,” Leverenz said. “We have four doctors on the board [of trustees] who we hoped had their ears to the ground” when it came to their colleagues’ feelings, he said.

They were also surprised that so much of the anger was addressed toward Neumeister. “Some of it should have been directed at the board,” Leverenz said. “Dan was only doing what we wanted him to do.”

Asked if the problem was less in what Neumeister did than in how he went about it, Leverenz said that might be true. He also pointed out that the animosity could date back many years, to when Neumeister first came to the hospital and was told to cut costs to bring the economically fragile facility solidly into the black. “His style was probably a little meat-axe then,” Leverenz acknowledged. “It left scars. He’s gotten better and smoother since then, but scars are scars.”

The bitter battle four years ago over unionization of the nurses didn’t help matters either, he added.

In any event, the trustees believe they need to follow established procedures for dealing with the doctors’ complaints, Leverenz said. They plan to meet with the Enloe Medical Committee—the physician heads of various departments—and try to get to the bottom of the conflict with Neumeister. They may hire a firm of doctors with expertise to help them do fact-finding, he added.

The crisis of confidence in Neumeister comes at a time when the hospital is fund-raising for its Century Project expansion, something Leverenz, as chairman of the Enloe Foundation, is acutely aware of. “This doesn’t make our life easy at all,” he said.

On the other hand, he hopes this “wake-up call” results in a hospital that is even stronger when the crisis is resolved.