Let in the light

Of all the comments we’ve heard about Enloe Medical Center during the hospital’s current crisis, the one that sticks out in our minds is something Carl Leverenz said. Leverenz, a longtime Chico attorney who serves as an ex-officio member of Enloe’s Board of Trustees, was talking with CN&R about the May 22 trustees’ meeting. That was the meeting at which Enloe’s medical chief of staff, Dan Thomas, informed the board in no uncertain terms—and to its surprise, reportedly—of the doctors’ lack of confidence in Enloe CEO Dan Neumeister.

“Candidly, we were a little blindsided,” Leverenz said. “We have four doctors on the board who we hoped had their ears to the ground” when it came to their colleagues’ feelings. They were also surprised, he added, that so much of the doctors’ anger was directed at Neumeister rather than the trustees, inasmuch as he was “only doing what we wanted him to do.”

That’s a big disconnect, and it speaks to a fundamental problem with Enloe governance. The hospital prides itself on being locally controlled, but at critical times the trustees have been remarkably clueless about what is going on in their hospital and timid about taking action when it was needed.

We first noticed the problem in 2001, when the trustees seemed oblivious to the havoc being wrought by the Burke Group, the heavy-handed Southern California firm brought in, at great expense, to bust the Enloe nurses’ unionization effort. Had the trustees been alert, they would have given Burke the boot. When Burke failed, they should have fired whoever hired it.

We noticed the cluelessness again last year, when the hospital began its expansion effort by largely ignoring the concerns of neighborhood residents—until their insistence on being heard no longer could be disregarded.

And we noticed it again this year, as trustees initially pooh-poohed reports of doctors’ discontent with the administration—until the doctors no longer could be ignored.

The trustees are well-meaning people who work hard on Enloe’s behalf. But the board is also a closed group of well-to-do establishment figures who don’t represent the entire community. Meetings are held in secret, new trustees are selected by old trustees, and there is no accountability to anyone outside the board. This is a recipe for cluelessness and inaction.

If in the future the Board of Trustees wants to avoid the kind of crisis Enloe is now facing, it needs to become more open and more willing to make tough decisions, even ones that contradict its own earlier decisions. It could begin by making some of its positions rotating and bringing new people onto the board, including doctors selected by the medical staff, as well as nurses and technicians. It could hold periodic open meetings to hear from and speak to the rest of the community. And it could make public its members’ recompense and perquisites, if any.

Leverenz rightly called the current crisis at Enloe a “wake-up call” and said he hoped it would make the hospital even stronger when it is resolved. We share that wish. As the only hospital in town, the nonprofit Enloe has an obligation to be open and accessible. The trustees should start by letting in more light. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, after all.