WMC board looks into bylaw change for meetings


Greg Knight

The Wrangell Medical Center Board of Trustees came to a consensus during their March 20 meeting that electronic attendance by members would be addressed in revising the board’s bylaws.

The Wrangell Medical Center Board of Trustees took no action on three key proposals at their March 20 meeting at the James and Elsie Nolan Center, instead deciding to hold off on making any decisions for the near term.

The first item the board considered was whether or not to allow attendance at executive or other closed sessions by electronic means, including telephone, Skype or other methods. After a lengthy discussion by the members, board president Woody Wilson restated the feelings of the group to Borough attorney Bob Blasco.

“We have been discussing the idea of whether or not we should allow people to connect in an executive session with the board electronically, either by the phone or by video conference or by Skype or by some other electronic means that, perhaps, we haven’t thought of,” Wilson told Blasco, who was himself calling into the meeting via telephone.

Wilson then paraphrased to Blasco what he felt the consensus was, stating that the board wanted to see the use of electronic communications continue, but wanted to see its use kept to a minimum, that more than two members participating via such methods at once was a bad idea, and a suggestion that board members who take part electronically follow up with an affidavit stating they were alone prior to the session beginning.

“Do you have any advice for us? Do you see any pitfalls?” Wilson asked.

“I think your idea about having some questions of the person, that they swear they are alone and those kind of things, is an excellent idea,” Blasco said. “I probably would consider going one step further and have that be a form that is also signed and returned to the board so you have that as a record. It’s just one more step in the process to protect the integrity of your executive sessions.”

The idea for a limited number of participants allowed to be present electronically at any meeting was derived, according to Wilson, from a Skagway Borough rule.

Because the current bylaws allow for electronic communications by board members in meetings, and does not specify closed meetings, the only action the board can take would be to disallow such attendance in the future. The board decided to direct the bylaws committee, comprised of Megan Clark, Marlene Messmer, Judy Allen and Borough Assemblyman James Stough, to look into the issue.

In interim CEO Marla Sanger’s report to the board, she highlighted what she said she has observed regarding the board since her arrival at WMC.

“Upon my arrival all but one of the governing board members was newly elected, having met only 2-3 times. In November of 2012 I observed a group of individuals with a sincere commitment to the task at hand but most had not had prior experience or training in hospital governance,” Sanger stated.

Sanger added that professional development training of staff and board members has made an impact.

“We employed the services of Marv Erisman, Ph.D. who met with all of the available board members individually and worked with the board chair and interim CEO to develop a strategy for board leadership and staff development,” she wrote. “Board members made a strong effort to learn quickly and the result has been remarkable especially so early in their formation. In February of 2013 I observed a professional board of directors with tremendous potential.”

And while not every board member might agree on every issue, Sanger writes, the group is working in the best interest of the hospital and patients.

“There may be personal differences of opinion but as a board they are aligned, and fully dedicated to safe, high quality care for WMC patients, to the wellbeing of our staff and providers and to the sustainability of the organization going forward,” Sanger wrote.

The financial status of the hospital was also a key component of Sanger’s report.

Operationally the organization is performing fairly well despite disruptions in leadership and financial set-backs in the previous year,” she stated. “Patient activity fluctuates but we are seeing a recent increase in admissions from surrounding communities. We know where we have some opportunities to improve the revenue cycle and our net days in accounts receivable has gone from 95.5 at the end of October 2012 to 74.8 as of the end of January. We can do better yet but this is a promising start.

According to Sanger, WMC had a net loss in the first four months of the fiscal year, from July through October, of $241,133. Net income for the last three months, or the period between November and January was $284,965, with a year-to-date net income of $44,095.

The current $272,273 one-year contract with PeaceHealth to provide administration for the hospital was also reviewed by the board.

The agreement, which will end on Oct. 1, contains a six-month notification clause that would require the board to consider whether they will retain the organization or seek to hire a new administrator as an employee of WMC.

Wilson said that Sanger’s access to the organizational structure of PeaceHealth could be an asset to the hospital if she is retained beyond her current interim status.

“Marla comes from a bigger organization and has had experiences that, perhaps, we wouldn’t get in a CEO that we would be able to afford to come to Wrangell,” Wilson said. “Because, we’re probably going to get somebody not long out of the chute and maybe not a lot of experience for a small hospital like ours.”

Board member Dorothy Hunt-Sweat then added that she felt the board should continue down the same path with Sanger.

“Let’s go for it,” she said.

In the end, the board took no action on declaring a wish to exit the contract with PeaceHealth.

The board also took no action on consideration and discussion of moving their meetings to City Hall, opting to utilize the Nolan Center for the foreseeable future.

Board members Clark and Cori Robinson were not present. The next regular meeting of the board is set for April 17.


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