Embattled hospital elects new board

Posted May 19, 2010, at 9:36 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — A new board of trustees was elected Tuesday evening at the Down East Community Hospital annual meeting.

Hospital administrator Douglas Jones said the election of the board was a vital step in rebuilding community trust and promising accountability and transparency. He said this was one of the final steps toward ending the hospital’s receivership status.

“This board has a real diverse set of skills,” Jones said Wednesday.

He said the group consists of a mix of local doctors, businesspeople and community leaders. All of those elected had volunteered to serve.

The board was elected unanimously by the hospital’s corporators, a group of Washington County residents that meets several times a year and oversees hospital operations. The corporators are responsible for appointing all new board members.

Jones recognized that the former board of trustees did not have the support nor the trust of the area residents. “That distrust came from long experience,” he said.

Jones called the board elections a “real turning point” for the rural hospital.

“This board has balance, is representative of a wide range of views, and is made up of people who share the common interest of strengthening our hospital,” Jones said. “It is such a good sampling of Washington County people.”

The hospital had operated under a conditional state license since 2008 after concerns were raised about governance and quality. In March, DECH received full license status from the state due to quality improvements that have been put into place.

The state placed the hospital in receivership in July 2009, with Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems of Brewer taking over operations after a number of investigations into clinical and administrative complaints. Jones expects the receivership will last at least through the summer.

The highest-profile incident at DECH was the death in January 2008 of Reid Emery, 61, of Eastport. Emery checked out of the hospital against doctors’ wishes on a cold, snowy evening and, heavily drugged from his stay at the hospital, was found dead the next day in a nearby snowbank.

An investigation by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services into Emery’s death found, among a number of other deficiencies, that hospital staff had failed to meet the safety needs of the patient.

According to Jones, the state has been watching the hospital’s improvements during the past year and is pleased with this latest and important step.

Recent surveys of employees and the community indicate confidence in the hospital’s care, programs, services and management, Jones indicated.

During the process of electing a new board, Jones said DECH subscribed to the recommendations of the nationally acclaimed Governance Institute for Hospital Governing Boards.

He said the next steps include governance education, revision of the bylaws and an election of officers.

The members of the new DECH board of trustees are:

— Dr. Eric Burke, a retired physician from Northfield who served on the DECH board of trustees from 2004 to 2009.

— Dr. Greg Campbell of Jonesport, a retired chemical engineering professor.

— John Church of Jonesport, a DECH board member for 12 years, community leader and businessman.

— Annie Dickinson, an East Machias business owner and member of the DECH auxiliary board of trustees.

— Dr. Kara Dwight of Machias, medical staff president at DECH and an ex officio board member.

— Dona Emerson, a former DECH board member, a Community of Christ ordained priest and an ex officio member representing the hospital auxiliary.

— Debra Getchell of Whitneyville, chief financial officer of Machias Savings Bank and a former DECH trustee.

— Dr. Cynthia Huggins of Machias, president of the University of Maine at Machias.

— Douglas Jones, CEO of DECH, an ex officio member.

— Dr. Mortimer Lockett of Roque Bluffs, who has more than 30 years of experience advising military and civilian hospitals.

— Elizabeth Neptune, director of Health and Human Services for the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township.

— Paul Weston of Trescott, retired executive director of the Acadia Health Education coalition.

— David Whitney, founder and owner of Whitney Originals, a Machias business.

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