Ten vie to be on hospital board | AspenTimes.com

Ten vie to be on hospital board

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The spring election for the Aspen Valley Hospital Board of Directors has suddenly become very competitive.

Ten candidates will battle it out on May 7 for three open seats on the board. In the past, elections have been uncontested.

“All we’re doing is shaking our heads,” said Chuck Torinus, board treasurer, who is running for re-election. “In the past there was a paucity of candidates, and here we have 10. How do you explain that?”

Some of the challengers say the candidate list reflects increased community concern about the hospital’s future.

“Some of us believe that some new vision and new oversight and new ideas about the hospital would be helpful to the community as a whole, and that’s what’s important,” said candidate John Jellinek, who ran for a seat on the board two years ago.

There are three incumbents running for re-election: current board president Meg Haynes, vice president Tom Griffiths and Torinus. According to Torinus, the three have all served two four-year terms on the board and ran together as a group eight years ago.

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“The political action committee from the hospital formed eight years ago, and had concern about the goings on in the hospital and the district. They did a search, and three of us were selected [to run for the board],” Torinus said, adding that the hospital was in a “desperate condition” at the time. “Now it’s in fantastic condition – the doctors, the staff, morale, financially, anything you want to name. The hospital is on a positive note right now.”

Torinus said he, Haynes and Griffiths will be running as a team for the third time in order to finish the objectives they have gotten rolling in the past eight years, including the hospital’s planned 50,000-square-foot, $30 million expansion and remodel.

“The three incumbents will run a strong campaign and say ‘look, the hospital is in fantastic condition right now from our point of view, we’ve got goals we’re still challenged by that we want to finish,'” Torinus said. “We’re running as a team now to maintain the consistency and leadership we’ve got going, because we’ve reflected on how well the hospital is doing.”

But one former hospital employee said the large candidate pool reflects that the community isn’t as satisfied with the institution.

“I think there are a lot of people who see that things are not as wonderful at the hospital as they seem,” said Bill Brunworth, who left his job as AVH project manager last November. “I think there is a big issue with the accountability of board members and top administration. It’s really heartening that so many people are running – I can’t help but think it’s good for the public, because there are more good candidates, and the public will pay more attention and have a much better turn out [at the polling places.]”

Developer John Sarpa said though he’s never run for public office before, he has entered the board of directors race based on his experience with other health-care related boards in the valley, such as the Aspen Valley Medical Foundation. He said he’s not surprised by the lengthy candidate list.

“Given the level of interest in the general community and the hospital, it doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “There are 10 different reasons for each person running. I think a lot of things have changed, or people just want to have an impact. If nothing else, think about demographics: As you get older, health care gets more important.”

Jellinek said the board would be well served with his 30 years of background in the medical-systems and equipment business.

“Basically, what’s required is that a slate of trustees come in and take an unbiased and fresh look at the hospital, and see what can be done to better serve the community,” he said, adding that residents are in the dark about some hospital operations. “The residents of Pitkin County have a right to know in a public forum if the hospital is profitable, well run and has state-of-the-art systems in place. That’s what trustees look into.”

Anyone who is registered to vote in Colorado and who has been a resident of the district for over 30 days or owns property is eligible to vote in the May 7 election. The district includes all of Pitkin County with the exception of precinct 13, which is located in Redstone.