It’s a mess. It’s a disgrace. So … who’s to blame for AVH’s failing finances? | AspenTimes.com
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It’s a mess. It’s a disgrace. So … who’s to blame for AVH’s failing finances?

Andy Stone

OK, let’s get serious. The hospital’s in a mess and it’s a disgrace.

Does anybody disagree with me so far?

I didn’t think so.

And, right now, we’re about to have an election to choose two of the five hospital board members, which seems like a good time to start dealing with some of the problems.

I understand that there are those who feel that the board shouldn’t have to take the blame for the hospital’s finances collapsing in a heap.

That is, to put it simply, a load of hooey. An enormous load of hooey. Not to get carried away, but they don’t have bedpans at the hospital big enough to contain that much hooey.

One current board member explained that he didn’t think the board should be micromanaging the hospital. I agree – but micromanaging means deciding what color the Dixie Cup dispensers should be.

OK, I’m going overboard. Micromanaging would be deciding how much to charge for an X-ray. Or when to turn a delinquent bill over to a collection agency. But, sometime after financial problems cross the million-dollar threshold, the required managing is no longer “micro.” And they crossed that million-dollar threshold more than $10 million ago.

That same board member told a public forum, “We have been riding herd on the financial problems of this hospital.” Well, to continue with his own metaphor, if a real cowboy rode herd on real cattle the way these guys have been “riding herd” on the hospital’s finances that cowboy would be riding the range all by his lonesome.

Several members of the current board were elected two years ago after declaring that their business expertise was exactly what the hospital needed. Unfortunately, those members aren’t up for re-election this year – but when they do come up, two years from now, they’re going to have a whole lot of explaining to do.

Let’s get very clear. The hospital’s financial problems are not new.

About three years ago, a man named Bill Brunworth resigned from the hospital staff and did his best to raise a stink about the rotten state of the hospital’s finances. We at The Aspen Times did our best to dig into that mess back then. We failed. We got hints, here and there, that there was indeed a real mess in the financial department. But people on the staff were too scared of CFO Verna Bartlett to talk to us, even off the record.

It wasn’t too long after that uproar that the new board was elected. But instead of digging into the mess, they joined into the culture of secrecy that had been created by CEO Randy Middlebrook and CFO Bartlett.

For those of us in the media, Aspen Valley Hospital operated under an almost impenetrable shroud of secrecy. We failed at our job of digging out the truth. I am embarrassed about that.

But for the hospital’s board of directors to fail – or, worse yet, to not even try – is more than embarrassing. It’s shameful.

The current president of the board, John Sarpa, is an intelligent, well-meaning, admirable man. He has the business expertise to do exactly what he promised when he was elected. I don’t know why he failed – but he did. But John Sarpa’s not up for election this year. As I said, he’ll have a lot of questions to answer when his time comes.

This year, only one incumbent is running for re-election. He is Bob D’Alessio. By all accounts, he too is a fine man. But he is also the board member I quoted above, the one who spoke about “riding herd.” The one who said he didn’t want to micromanage.

I think Bob D’Alessio clearly does not deserve to be re-elected to help run the hospital he has failed so badly.

Based solely on the public statement of the other three candidates, I would also not vote for Richard F. Jacobs. Jacobs is a doctor, which is good, but he is also an MBA – which might seem good, except for the fact that the board is already full of MBA-types who were apparently asleep at the switch.

I don’t know Dr. Greg Balko, so I can’t comment. But I do know Dr. Barry Mink and I would trust him with my life … in fact, I already do. Barry Mink is concerned, serious, intelligent, well-rooted in the community and – perhaps most important right now – deeply rooted at Aspen Valley Hospital. He, at the very least, both cares and understands.

I began with an obvious statement: The hospital’s in a mess and it’s a disgrace. Now I’ll end with another:

Aspen Valley Hospital is one of this community’s great treasures. It must be saved and it must be preserved. It’s time for the voters to start that process.

Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is andy@aspentimes.com


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