Volunteers feel hospital’s ill will | AspenTimes.com

Volunteers feel hospital’s ill will

John Colson

Ongoing tensions among the staff at Aspen Valley Hospital have spilled over into the hospital’s corps of volunteers.

One longtime volunteer recently wrote a letter to the editor of The Aspen Times critical of the hospital administration for its handling of the controversial dismissal of one employee, materials manager Greg Kayne, which led to the resignation of two others: Kayne’s assistant, Steve Sindle, and project manager Bill Brunworth.

She later got a letter from the head volunteer that she felt rebuked her for writing the letter and directed her to keep quiet about hospital affairs.

“I don’t like being told not to talk,” said volunteer Marnie Webster, adding that she feels the suppression of opinions and open discussion is a serious problem at the hospital.

“People that dissent seem to leave or are let go,” she said. “You’re told to be seen and not heard.”

In the wake of the firing of Kayne, a number of hospital staffers have approached The Aspen Times with complaints about the personnel management and other issues at the hospital, and about the response of the hospital administration and the hospital board to their feelings.

In her letter, Webster wrote about her feelings concerning the personnel management at the hospital and the board’s role in hospital affairs.

“The scandal at the Aspen Valley Hospital and the fiscal irresponsibility of the Board of Directors has caused great concern and dismay in our community,” wrote Webster, who has been volunteering at the hospital for several years.

She wrote that she considered Kayne and Sindle to be “more than competent, caring and hard working,” and that she was “saddened” by their departure.

“The `off with their heads’ approach to dealing with employee discontent and the disregard for the community at large has marred my confidence in the board’s ability to govern,” she concluded.

Shortly afterward, Webster received a letter dated Oct. 5 from Jamie Hall, president of the volunteers at the hospital. The letter from Hall was addressed to the volunteers as a whole, and Webster said she felt the letter was meant to intimidate volunteers into staying quiet about perceived difficulties within the hospital.

The letter from Hall referred to the controversy over the dismissals and other issues and stated that the volunteers “do not know the actual facts regarding the situation” and that they “should just do our jobs graciously and with loyalty. For volunteers to indulge in public discussions about the current difficulties can only hurt the hospital. We should be ambassadors for the hospital and all that is good and positive about it.”

But Webster defended her right to speak out, noting that other volunteers and many on the staff feel the board is not acting responsibly and is allowing the administration to run the hospital “like it’s a little empire.” But few, she said, are willing to speak publicly for fear of retribution from the administration.

“I don’t think that’s any way to run a hospital,” she said, asking, “Who’s going to speak out for the employees if they’re afraid to speak?”

Hall, reached at her home this week, denied that her letter was meant to silence Webster or any other volunteers, and said it was meant only to urge the volunteers to not speak out too quickly.

“I was trying to ask the volunteers to wait until we have all the facts until we respond,” she said.

She said there was a meeting of the volunteer board on Oct. 19, and that “we were brought up to date” by hospital administrator Randy Middlebrook on the personnel issues and other questions.

“I think we all feel comfortable with what we know,” Hall said.

As for the conflicts between staff members, the administration and the hospital board, she said, “We have absolutely no connection with them at all. … We’ve never been involved in politics at the hospital.”

Both Hall and the volunteer board’s new president-elect, Mary Ann Igna, said they feel that if some volunteers were upset by the hospital administration’s handling of its personnel, “From our end it seemed to have quieted down” after the meeting with Middlebrook.

Webster is out of the country and could not be reached for further comment on the matter.

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