Personnel matters prompt hospital board executive session

The South Peninsula Hospital Board of Directors went into executive session at its Wednesday night meeting to discuss personnel matters, after an employee began to speak about why she transferred departments.

Sarah Bollwitt, who identified herself as an occupational therapist at the hospital, began speaking during the first public comment period of the meeting about her transfer from the rehabilitation department to work in home health . She said she was representing herself and others who had trusted her with their stories.

Bollwitt began to talk about how other members in the rehabilitation department spoke favorably about the department’s former director “without consideration for any opposing viewpoints…”

At this point, Board Vice President Thomas Clark stopped the testimony and suggested the board host an executive session at the end of the meeting, during which they invited Bollwitt to make her statements directly to the board.

“We’re straying into very difficult territory here legally,” Clark said during the meeting.

According to the board’s “Rules for Participating in a Public Meeting,” people making public comments are not allowed to disparage “by name the reputation or character of any member of the Operating Board of directors, the administration or personnel of (South Peninsula Hospital Inc.), or the public.”

Board member Matt Hambrick read these rules aloud at the start of the meeting.

“You are not allowed to mention or use the name of individuals,” Hambrick read.

At the time Bollwitt was asked to stop speaking, she had not used a specific name. After the meeting, Clark said the board went into executive session to discuss personnel matters. Bollwitt and a few other meeting attendees spoke with the board members in the executive session one by one.

Clark and Hambrick said after the meeting that Bollwitt’s public testimony was beginning to go in the direction of specifically naming someone. The board’s meeting rules are adapted from those used by the South Peninsula Hospital Service Area Board, a publicly elected board of the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

Maria Soto, who works in purchasing for the hospital and is chief steward for the local teamsters, gave public comment in which she talked about the importance of the hospital making people feel safe when coming forward to report things like harassment. She told the board that she gets numerous calls from hospital staff about things that have happened to them and that she’s not sure where to take the information.

Soto spoke of the national #MeToo movement, commenting that the hospital should have a way to prepare for people coming forward, and a plan for moving forward after they do.

Ginny Espenshade, a Homer lawyer and executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Youth Court, also made public comments regarding how to handle reports of harassment. She said she’s concerned that a message is being sent that it’s OK for women to come forward and report incidents, but that there isn’t necessarily the proper follow through to back it up.

The hospital’s new Chief Executive Officer, Joe Woodin, made his first appearance at a board meeting Wednesday. He expressed his excitement to be living and working in Homer. Woodin was slated to officially start work March 26.

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