Calling it the hardest thing she's ever done, Suzie Kendrick resigned from the Blood Bank of Alaska, Kenai Peninsula Center, over the weekend, citing irreconcilable differences with the nonprofit corporation's chief executive officer, Thom Hathaway.
"I regret that it came to this point," Kendrick said Monday, just hours after she found she had been locked out of the office she opened two years ago.
"I'm leaving the blood bank over philosophical differences because the CEO and board of directors put a gag order on employees," she said. "We couldn't talk to any member of the board of directors without threat of termination. Thom had a very irrational response to my employee's letter to the board, and he never has been able to get past it."
Scott Edward, director of community relations for the Blood Bank of Alaska in Anchorage, stressed that operations at the Soldotna office will continue uninterrupted with the same Tuesday through Saturday hours, and that planned blood drives, such as today's at Kenai Central High School from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., will occur as scheduled. He also said the planned blood laboratory and distribution center development will continue, as well.
"I want to say that the other employees are staying here because they want to continue on supporting the blood needs of the state," he said.
Kendrick submitted her two-weeks' notice Saturday but wasn't given the chance to continue working.
"I received an e-mail at home this morning that basically said I was no longer an employee," she said Monday.
She said she was shocked that the locks would be changed on her, and that she wouldn't get the chance to tie up loose ends at the office and in the community.
Edward came to Soldotna Monday to set up one of Kendrick's employees, Rita Wydra, as the acting manager of the peninsula office in the Blazy Mall.
He said changing the locks after someone of Kendrick's status leaves is standard procedure.
"When someone is unhappy with their work environment, we want to make it as simple as possible," Edward said. "Locks are something of a liability issue."
Edward said Kendrick's separation stemmed from her unhappiness with the organization, and that she had a personality conflict with Hathaway.
Hathaway was in meetings all day Monday, and through his assistant referred all questions to Edward.
Kendrick said she was forced to undergo treatment for stress and anxiety over the turmoil of the last three months, and said, "When it gets to that stage, it's time to move on."
She said the chain of events that led to her resignation began after the blood bank started undergoing accounting difficulties at the main office in Anchorage, including late paychecks and loss of insurance benefits to an employee because premiums were not paid.
Kendrick said accounting problems at the home office in Anchorage have hampered her office's ability to obtain supplies, because vendors had not been paid, and she had to make up many expenses out of her own pocket.
Blood Bank of Alaska board chairperson Cary Carrigan of Anchorage denied that bills had gone unpaid.
"Nope. I guarantee that did not happen," he said. "There are no problems. We had some filing snafus, but there are no problems there."
Carrigan said a dissatisfied employee has avenues of recourse available to them, but the board does not get involved in those day-to-day operations.
"We deal in policy and long-range direction issues," he said. "We hire someone that we put our faith into to direct our operations."
Edward agreed, saying the blood bank has a policy of working through the organizational structure.
In her letter of resignation, Kendrick wrote, "It is not fair that employees have no recourse to bring issues to light if those issues could negatively impact the blood bank."
Kendrick went on to write in her letter of resignation that she did not believe Hathaway could put her previous contact with board members behind him, and said, "... I cannot trust that things will ever 'get better.'"
Kendrick likened herself Monday to a whistle-blower for speaking out on her situation.
"That's never an easy position to be in," she said. "But I feel I have a very high level of integrity, and I want the public to know why I'm leaving. I always thought it appropriate for employees to have recourse to talk to the board."
Kendrick's name has been synonymous with the peninsula blood bank office after she built it from the ground up two years ago, after organizing blood drives while still working at Central Peninsula General Hospital.
"I resigned from a very good job at the hospital to run the blood bank," she said. "The blood bank has been my life."
Edward described Wydra as a good candidate for the job of acting manager, though a permanent manager will be advertised for.
"Rita is very good at what she does, collecting blood and ensuring the safety of donors," Edward said. "She's run blood drives without Suzie in the past, and she's a great match to meet the peninsula's needs."
Kendrick said she supports Wydra's appointment as acting manager, saying she had made her team leader because she was respected by the other employees.
Kendrick said she thanks all the people and organizations that helped get the blood bank started on the peninsula.
"The blood bank was borne on the backs of a lot of people on the peninsula," she said. "What we did down here was incredible, and I won't take credit for all of it.
"I truly regret that it had to end like this for me."
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