Machias hospital trustees must take responsibility

Posted April 20, 2009, at 6:15 p.m.

The board of trustees or the governing board of any hospital represents the corporate leadership, ownership and control. Basically, the hospital board is ultimately responsible for the institution, the articulation of its mission and values, the protection of its assets and the quality of its services. Among other responsibilities is seeing that relations with the public, with legal and governmental entities and with other health care organizations and community agencies are open and effective.

I was honored to serve for nearly 15 years as a member of the board of trustees at Down East Community Hospital in Machias, several of those years as its president. I was privileged to work side by side with committed board members, competent CEOs, excellent medical staff physicians, devoted and caring managers and nursing staffs. We prided ourselves in “Neighbors Taking Care of Neighbors.”

I am saddened by the recent articles that have appeared in the press concerning events at Down East Community Hospital. The many articles that I have read are too numerous to comment on individually, so I will generalize my thoughts. However, one that stands out is the report of the uneasiness of the local community over hospital issues, (BDN, April 14).

The board of trustees is responsible for all that takes place in the hospital. Is the current board bearing that responsibility?

Briefly, the responsibilities of hospital board member are as follows: Establish and evaluate the mission; establish policy; appoint, support and evaluate the CEO; set goals and objectives; assess and improve the quality of care and service (to include medical staff relations); assess long-term financial viability and proposals for improvement; ensure compliance with all legal and regulatory requirements; serve as an advocate for the hospital; and organize itself to fulfill these responsibilities.

Is the current board bearing these responsibilities?

It appears that Down East Community Hospital has lost its way. Its credibility with the local community seems to be in free fall.

Recent events have been under scrutiny that may or may not be justified. Not all patients that present at an emergency room have a good outcome. All bad outcomes at DECH may now be undergoing microscopic scrutiny due to the fact that the train is off the track and no recognition for the many good outcomes will be acknowledged.

The board of trustees is responsible. They have allowed the hospital to lose its credibility with the very communities that they serve. Reputations have been damaged. Trust seems to have been lost.

Down East Community Hospital should stand as a beacon in the community. Many lives have been saved and several more improved because many years ago a group of civic-minded residents had the vision to establish a local hospital. The board of trustees has a role and responsibility to its predecessors, its stakeholders and countless others who have given their time, talent and resources to allow Down East Community Hospital to provide years of service and financial viability.

The board of trustees must stand up and take responsibility. It is time to change.

Our beloved institution needs quality leaders; board members with courage for the people they serve, willingness to face the facts and the willingness to work together for solutions. They have real challenges; the effort is well worth their time. We have a great facility. We need to keep it.

Our most critical choices in life are often the most difficult. However, with change comes opportunity — opportunity that the residents of Machias and surrounding areas have worked and sacrificed for in the past. They deserve the best we have to offer.

Carolyn M. Foster of Portland is a former member of the board of trustees at Down East Community Hospital and a former member of the Maine Hospital Association board. She was named Trustee of The Year for small rural hospitals in 1996 by Modern Healthcare magazine.

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