and Wendy Resnick

and Wendy Resnick

We are a group of medical professionals with over 85 years of combined work experience at Ashland Community Hospital who feel deeply compelled to speak out over an egregious management style that has cast a dark shadow over this formerly well-respected and beloved institution.

A decade has passed since ACH was selected by Oregon Business Magazine as the best place to work in Southern Oregon. This was a period when the word "community" represented not only the geographic area we served but extended to a spirit of openness and harmony at all levels of the organization. There was collaboration in decision-making between employees and management. This was reflected in an excellent quality of patient care and service throughout the hospital. This culture made it easy for staff to enthusiastically support organizational missions and values.

Within the last eight years there has been a change in the management team, and with that came a change in style. Doors once open closed, and the positive work environment was transformed to one of fear, intimidation and secrecy. These have been difficult financial times for ACH. All of us were very dedicated and committed to this organization and we would have sacrificed in varying ways to get through these times. Unfortunately, our good will was squandered.

Since the change in management, many long-term employees have left — some voluntarily, others involuntarily. We believe this is representative of a pattern of wrongful terminations, unwarranted disciplinary actions and resignations due in part to frustrations about safety and work conditions. Furthermore, many of us were told by administration not to discuss these situations with anyone. This demand was often accompanied by threats.

We believe these scare tactics have kept many people silent, but the time has come for us to speak publicly. We are the tip of the iceberg: those angry, frustrated or saddened enough to finally bring this to light. We offer a few individual situations as examples:

A pharmacist employed for 16 years resigned after attempts to work within the organization to rectify serious safety issues proved unfruitful. A registered nurse of 22 years was suspended after making a comment about frustrations with management. A registered nurse employed for 10.5 years was suspended and then fired. The reasons given appear unwarranted and capricious. A unit clerk of 14.5 years decided to resign when the workload more than doubled and became untenable. A registered nurse employed for 23 years resigned because of unsafe conditions for patients and employees. A registered nurse employed for 16 years was terminated. ACH reported this individual to the Board of Nursing but the board found no need for disciplinary action.

In 2006 ACH affiliated with Planetree. Its goals are to personalize health care and transform organizational cultures with the aim of improving health care services. This model includes a culture that supports the needs and well-being of patients and staff. We appreciate the initiatives born from this affiliation. However, the nurture of employees was not addressed, and a once stellar workplace further transformed into one where employees routinely experienced fear, intimidation and secrecy.

ACH has spent unknown sums of money obtaining Planetree affiliation, numerous corporate surveys, outside consultants and interim staff, all during a time of fiscal uncertainty. In fact, in 2009, ACH froze wages and suspended the 3 percent match to the retirement plan and now faces a merger due to these challenges. During these times of fiscal trouble, using significant resources to outsource services could be viewed as frivolous at best.

During March of 2010, the Oregon Board of Pharmacy inspected ACH. The inspection identified many violations of the Oregon Pharmacy Act and expressed a concern for safety. Sadly, when staff brought safety (and other) issues to the attention of management and board members, they went unheeded.

Our interest is in rebuilding a strong, supportive, responsive organization. An organization that encourages and values both patients and staff, that takes its own mission and values statements to heart and acts accordingly. One that promotes open communication to serve our community.

Especially now, with the hospital about to undergo more changes, the time is right to evaluate where we have been and where we as a community wish to go. As members of this community, we have a stake in our hospital, in our health care. This is the time to speak out for what we want our hospital and our health care to be.

Many people who work or have worked for decades at ACH have been disenfranchised, silenced or ignored. We ask that the ACH Board of Directors hold an open meeting for employees, medical staff, former employees and interested community members to freely express concerns and offer suggestions for the future of ACH. Additionally, we would like to see ACH board meetings open to the public and include elected employee representation. We believe these changes will help guide the hospital toward a healthy and secure future.

Uma Freese and Wendy Resnick work at Ashland Community Hospital. This opinion was also signed by Ken Bonsi, Jeannie Casebier and Kathy Lennon.