Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dave Carey and several assembly members indicated Tuesday they would not support a recommendation to conduct an operational audit of Central Peninsula Hospital.
Carey said on Tuesday at the Policy and Procedure Committee meeting, that he thought an audit would be outside his staff's purview, a redundant expense to the borough and could be insensitive to those affected by last November's shooting tragedy.
The mayor told the committee he wanted to share his views on the recommendation with them.
Carey or an assembly member has the ability to bring before the body a resolution that would support the service area board's recommendation.
In mid-October, the Central Kenai Peninsula Hospital Service Area Board drafted a letter to the mayor and the assembly advising them to launch an investigation that would look at eight points concerning the management of the hospital including its adherence to state and federal laws, regulations and rules governing hospitals; mandating hiring policies that prohibit discrimination; and an investigation into the shooting, among others.
Carey expressed confidence in hospital chief Ryan Smith, saying, "In my discussions with (Smith) on both his strengths and those things that are not his strongest, he has been very open in terms of his management skills, his leadership as well as he has been very open that there are things he is working on."
He said he had met with Smith on a regular basis since taking office. His comments on the recommendation paralleled those recently provided by Smith.
Carey said he had also had conversations with citizens and members of the Service Area Board.
"I believe the people that have spoke with me were truthfully accurately presenting their perspective of things, however, I think my job is to look at the overall operation and overall contract," he said.
He noted that in the past year the hospital had seen much turmoil, citing construction, unionization attempts and a shooting.
"The efforts to unionize segments of the hospital by their very nature tend to produce, sometimes misunderstandings, and also at times even exaggerations," he said.
He told the committee he thought it was time to move on, saying, "I believe there is a group of individuals both inside the hospital and in the community that would like to see the hospital go back to the way it was. That bridge has already been crossed."
Three assembly members, Pete Sprague, of Soldotna, Hal Smalley, of Kenai, and Gary Knopp, who represents Kalifornsky, all indicated that they supported the mayor in his recommendation.
Sprague said he thought the recommendation from the Service Area Board wasn't specific enough.
"Looking through the points they address as points one through eight, seven of them are, to my understanding, just provisions of the lease and operating agreement," he said. He went on to say the only point with an action item was the recommendation to investigate the shooting.
Smalley said he thought an audit would, "be not a good use of borough funds."
He said he agreed with the mayor, that the hospital's most recent accreditation report conducted by The Joint Commission served this purpose.
Knopp praised Smith, saying, "I've never seen a man more forthcoming in articles and to the assembly and being as straight-forward and honest as he possibly can."
Smith, who attended the meeting, said he was appreciative of the mayor's comments and the support from the assembly.
"I think I've stated in my letters to the mayor and to others that I didn't think that, again it's my opinion, that what the Service Area Board had asked for was what they were really after," Smith said. "That wouldn't have been a good use of the Service Area money."
Service Area Board Chair Neal DuPerron, however, said the mayor's decision was unexpected and "disappointing."
"I figured the assembly would not support it, I already got that reading from the beginning, they don't typically support a lot of the work the Service Area Board does," he said, "But I was surprised at Mayor Carey."
DuPerron said he'd had several conversations with Carey in recent weeks that led him to believe Carey would recommend the audit.
He thought the mayor and assembly members' reliance on the accreditation reports was unfounded.
"I would expect that (The Joint Commission report) would be favorable to (the hospital)," he said. "I don't think it goes far enough into issues we hear about, like bullying."
He said a separate investigation could have looked at management issues better than the Joint Commission.
He also said if the mayor or any assembly members felt there was a need for more clarification on the points, they could have brought it back to the Service Area Board.
DuPerron said it's not an issue he expects the board to continue to pursue unless there is a continued call for action.
"It was never a vendetta against Mr. Smith, or his staff," he said, "but as elected members for the service board area it'd be stupid of us not to look into it if in the next six months we get 10 to 20 people coming to the meetings saying, 'You need to look at this.'"
Dante Petri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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