Accusations fray nerves of AVH |

Accusations fray nerves of AVH

John Colson

Aspen Valley Hospital projects manager Bill Brunworth accused the hospital’s board of directors of trying to “control” what is said at board meetings in an effort to stifle criticism and avoid public inquiry into hospital affairs.

Board member Chuck Torinus, angered by Brunworth’s comments, at one point said that employees should refrain from making remarks at board meetings, “especially if their comments … are in a negative vein.”

But board chair Meg Haynes later corrected Torinus, saying his remarks were borne of “frustration” and that they do not reflect AVH board policy.

She explained that the board is open to remarks and criticism from the public, although she added, “It shouldn’t be hours of angry disputes that may be relevant to a few people.”

The exchange came during a heated board meeting on Monday night, at which Brunworth at one point called for the resignation of AVH Chief Executive Officer Randy Middlebrook.

Brunworth has accused Middlebrook of withholding important information concerning the ramifications of plans to sell Middlebrook’s hospital-owned house to him. Brunworth claims that, in selling the house to Middlebrook, the board stood to lose three and a half “housing mitigation credits” that the hospital earned when it built the house.

According to Brunworth, those credits were to be used to offset affordable housing requirements associated with

plans to build a new medical office building on the hospital grounds. To replace those credits once they were lost, Brunworth claimed, would cost the hospital roughly $370,000.

At the last two board meetings, he has accused Middlebrook of deliberately hiding this information from the board, because to disclose it might interfere with their plan to sell his house to him. Ultimately, Middlebrook announced he would not pursue the house deal after it was revealed in a newspaper article and prompted an outraged public response.

Brunworth’s persistent criticism of the house deal, and other aspects of Middlebrook’s administration, has touched nerves among the board members.

Several times during Monday’s board meeting, arguments and recriminations erupted between board members or members of the audience. One Brunworth critic, hospital staffer Michael Younger, suggested that if Brunworth doesn’t like working at AVH, he should “take off the diapers and go somewhere else.” Brunworth, in fact, submitted his resignation some time ago, although he has stayed on to complete certain work he had already started.

Both Middlebrook and Haynes, in a lengthy interview this week, dismissed the campaign of Brunworth and former hospital staffer Greg Kayne, who both have criticized the hospital administration over the house deal and other matters.

Their campaign, said Middlebrook, is simply “two very disgruntled individuals who seem bent on carrying out a personal vendetta,” although he did not explain what he thought the cause of the vendetta might be.

He reiterated earlier statements that he did not accept Brunworth’s analysis of the mitigation credits issue. He said that the deal was discussed in open meetings with the Pitkin County commissioners with no mention of the credits issue. And, he maintained, there is no precedent for such a loss of credits attached to a deed-restricted home, although a Pitkin County planner backed up Brunworth’s assertions that the housing credits could be lost under certain circumstances.

In any event, Middlebrook said, the mitigation credits issue would have come up later in the process, had the sale of the house gone any further.

“I clearly feel that I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said, adding, “I don’t see that I had any cause to tell the board, because it was not even an issue.”

As far as the accessibility of the administration and the board, both Middlebrook and Haynes said that the hospital administration and board welcome comments and critiques from employees.

When asked about the board’s efforts to limit public comments at board meetings, Haynes said such limits are needed to keep the meeting running smoothly.

Concerning her announcement at the board meeting that public comments would be limited to three minutes, Haynes said, “It was not at all trying to squelch them. The board … is at a high frustration level about focus being misdirected,” in particular by arguments raised by Brunworth and Kayne.

Haynes said that the board would consider calling a special meeting with the employees to discuss complaints and perceived problems. She rejected claims by Brunworth, Kayne and other employees that they are afraid to speak out for fear of retribution from Middlebrook and Chief Financial Officer Verna Bartlett.

Middlebrook, too, scoffed at the idea that employees are afraid to speak out, declaring, “I don’t believe management behaves in a vindictive fashion,” and adding, “It can be convenient to suggest the fear of retribution as an excuse to cover poor performance” or other difficulties with management.

Haynes and Middlebrook both insisted that the administration and the board are open to discussions with employees about perceived problems in any area of the operation, and that there are established channels for such discussions as well as the open invitation to speak to board members.

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