Columbia County Public Hospital staff, patrons unload on board

Complaints were about firings, lack of staffing, poor patient care and overworked employees.

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DAYTON - Columbia County Public Hospital District board members learned a lot Thursday night.

More than 100 district employees, former employees and community members jammed into the physical therapy room, and adjacent hallway to express their fears, frustration and anger at recent firings, allegedly without cause, of some employees.

Besides firings, other complaints were lack of adequate staffing, which can lead to poor patient care and overworked employees.

After hearing 90 minutes of comments, the board went into executive session to discuss complaints against an employee.

About an hour later, the board returned to open session, and announced actions it will take, which includes a freeze on firing employees, and a commitment to hire and retain staff.

The board will also engage the services of a mediator and commit to being a visible part of the hospital district.

First to speak was Skip Mead, whose wife, Julia, was fired May 5 from her job as director of Rural Health Clinics.

His wife was fired because she reported poor patient care at the Booker Rest Home, Mead said.

Julia Mead is one of about 80 employees who have been fired or quit in the last two years , according to Missy DePaulo, who quit the same day Julia Mead was fired. In the last six years, the district has lost 216 employees, DePaulo said.

Several other former employees spoke, including Queta Van Scotter, a nurses' aide for 18 years. Van Scotter said she was fired "for no good reason" but she called for the board to "get (the hospital) back how it was. We need our hospital," she said.

Dr. Heidi Shields said she was representing herself and other physicians. She said she first noticed problems with inadequate staffing last summer.

In mid-October Shields heard concerns from nurses about an inexperienced nurse who would be on the floor and would distribute medications. After the new nurse administered medication to the wrong patient, Shields said she contacted the director of nursing services (Virginia Romine) about the incident. Romine told her it was a common problem and happens all the time, Shields said.

Shield said she expressed her concerns to a board member, who she said passed them on to District Chief Executive Officer Charlie Button.

Button was more concerned that Shields had gone to a board member than about a patient being endangered, Shields said.

When Shields went to Romine about a nurse who had been on duty for 20 hours, Romine's response was "she only worked 17 (hours)," Shields said.

Members of the audience called for the board to step up to its responsibilities and be responsive to the community.

Former board member Susan Bell told the board, "I am appalled to hear the staff issues, and the board's not aware of that. Whatever it takes to turn this around you'd better get it done," she said.

Dr. Michael Luce, who attended the executive session, told the crowd afterward "I do believe the board is taking your concerns seriously."

Luce advised people to "let go of your hurt. If you only radiate anger you will radiate anger to those around you."

Carrie Chicken can be reached at cec@innw.net or 522-5289.

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