Aspen hospital board grilled at tense meeting |

Aspen hospital board grilled at tense meeting

John Colson

Simmering tensions at Aspen Valley Hospital boiled over Monday night when staff members’ frustrations turned into some pointed questions for the hospital’s board of directors.

And, in the words of one hospital staffer who asked not to be named, “There were a lot of questions asked in there that were never answered.”

The questions came mainly from hospital project manager Bill Brunworth, former manager of materials Greg Kayne, whose firing last month has angered a number of hospital staffers, and Dr. Tom Moore.

Brunworth reportedly handed in his resignation in protest of Kayne’s firing but has not yet left the hospital’s employ.

Moore, an orthopedic specialist, has recently filed suit against hospital administrator Randy Middlebrook, two local medical firms and a list of well-known local orthopedic specialists over charges they conspired to keep him from practicing in the valley, thus violating Moore’s civil rights.

But others, also critical of the administration and the board, chimed in from time to time. At times some board members reacted testily to what some obviously felt was an inappropriate inquisition.

“It just seems like you’re out here to throw bombs,” said hospital finance committee member Taylor Liebmann to Brunworth, after Brunworth had persistently questioned board members on a variety of topics.

“We’ve been asking questions for four years, and we haven’t gotten anything but lip service,” retorted Brunworth. “All we’re trying to do is get some answers.”

Kayne started the questioning, asking the board why he had been “turned down” when he asked for a copy of the “packet” of information about the meeting that the board members were given.

After consultation about the matter, the board agreed that such packets should be made available to the public upon request, although board member Morris Cohen insisted that it be a “written request.”

The questioning went on from there, with Kayne demanding information about the board’s recent efforts to sell a hospital-owned home to Middlebrook. A public outcry arose after news of the proposed deal was broken by The Aspen Times, and the deal is on hold, although it may be revived in some other form.

Other questions came in quick succession, some about the house deal, others about entirely different matters.

Moore, for example, wanted to know why Middlebrook rejected his request for funding for an athletic training program at a Basalt school.

Middlebrook, seeming exasperated, said he had gone over this once with Moore and explained that the hospital already had agreed to support another such program sponsored by an unnamed local medical group “to create some good will in the community.” He said no money had yet been disbursed to the group, but he indicated that Moore’s request was redundant and wondered why Moore was bringing it up again.

“I just couldn’t get a straight answer,” Moore replied.

“I’m giving you a straight answer,” Middlebrook shot back.

Brunworth brought the topic back to the house deal, questioning whether Middlebrook brought all the facts before the board when he proposed the deal, maintaining that the deal might have interfered with some housing “mitigation” credits the hospital earned when it built the house.

“It’s a dead deal,” declared board member Bart Levin. “The house is not on the table any more.”

But Brunworth argued that Middlebrook had a “responsibility” to tell the board such things. He claimed the housing credits were worth about $350,000, which the hospital might have to spend on employee housing requirements assessed against future hospital expansion projects.

“It seems as if you never heard about it,” he told the board members. The board members essentially rejoined that there was no impropriety involved.

Other questions revolved around the amount of outstanding “accounts receivable” the hospital has currently; whether a board member can be paid for services to the hospital; and the cost and effectiveness of the hospital’s billing center in Rifle.

Little was resolved in the wide-ranging discussion, which ended when the board went into “executive session” and the public (staffers included) was ordered to leave.

A hospital staffer, who said it was her first board meeting, indicated she is aware of a growing schism between some on the staff and some in the administration, but strives to keep separate from it.

“We like being here,” she said of working at AVH and in Aspen, “and that can’t be said of other hospitals I’ve known.”

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