Balko, Mink our recommendations for AVH board

No point in pulling our punches.

Organizationally and financially, Aspen Valley Hospital is in shambles.

Most of the ultimate responsibility lies with the board of directors that was in place from the late 1990s to 2002. It failed in its oversight duties by allowing a clearly incompetent CEO and CFO to throw away millions of dollars in shoddy billings.

Bob D’Alessio, the incumbent seeking re-election next Tuesday, was one of those errant board members.

D’Alessio stated during a candidates’ forum this week that there were no major revenue problems until eight months ago, when it became apparent that the hospital had failed to collect millions of dollars for medical procedures and tests performed as far back as 1999. This level of denial is disturbing.

CEO Bob Karp has said there were clearly problems dating back to 1999, and former hospital planner Bill Brunworth raised the issue publicly in a guest editorial in The Aspen Times in 2000.

D’Alessio has not earned another term overseeing operations at one of Aspen’s most important institutions. Voters owe it to themselves and the hospital to dismiss this last member of the board that led AVH into darkness.

Fortunately, there are three other candidates in the race for the two open seats on the hospital board. Richard Jacobs, Barry Mink and Greg Balko have all worked for or within AVH at some time. All three are trained doctors, but each brings different qualities to the table and thus each deserves close consideration by voters.

Jacobs would likely be the most open with patients and the public. In recent hospital board meetings, he has prodded managers and sitting board members to clarify their statements and the public record. He recognizes that the board’s propensity for secrecy damages staff and community relations. Jacobs is also not especially enamored of the three sitting board members who were elected in 2002.

Jacobs openly expressed his disappointment with them for taking so long to begin acting on “huge opportunities to improve at AVH.”

If anything, the 1998-2002 board of directors, which spoke with a single voice and seemed to be of a single mind, taught us of the need for skepticism. Jacobs appears to be the sharpest skeptic among the candidates.

Barry Mink is one of the most popular physicians in the community. Ask Aspenites who their family doctor is, and they are likely to say “Dr. Mink.” Mink has spent his entire 29-year career working for Aspen and Pitkin County residents and is intimately familiar with the historical and current workings at AVH. For this election, he has fashioned himself as the candidate who can best represent the staff’s point of view. Given the bungling over the closure of the Aspen Basalt Care Clinic in December and the hospital’s handling of the recent round of firings, a staff-minded board member seems sorely needed.

Mink is also the only candidate willing to identify where further cuts, if necessary, should be made (administrative and consulting). He is also the only one to say that the negotiations with the New York City orthopedic powerhouse, the Hospital for Special Surgery, have “moved along inappropriately.”

Mink represents a key link to the community just as our community hospital seeks to heal its wounds and define its future.

Greg Balko’s enthusiasm and experience would bring a refreshing voice to the board. Like Jacobs and Mink, it appears unlikely that he would follow the current leadership blindly into the woods, or into affiliation with HSS, for that matter.

Balko, an emergency room doctor, is the one true staff insider seeking election. The need for that kind of perspective is apparent in one of his recent statements about further staff cuts. After pointing out how difficult it is to recruit high-quality, permanent employees, he wrote: “Compared to permanent providers, I have found temporary positions to be expensive and mediocre in quality. For these reasons, I feel it is important to invest our money in our own people and work hard to retain their services.”


Balko has also made clear the importance of hiring a competent, qualified CEO. His eyes on the process may keep the leadership on the current board from gazing too far from home and hiring another out-of-town “hotshot” like the deposed Randy Middlebrook.

Drs. Jacobs, Mink and Balko all appear to be strong candidates for the board. Since we have to pick two, we’ll go with Balko, who represents AVH’s future, and Mink, who has strong links to the community our hospital is supposed to serve. But we happen to like the skeptical Jacobs as well.

Vote Balko and Mink on Tuesday, May 4.