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Fletcher Allen board and public trust

12/16/02 12:00AM By Timothy McQuiston
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(Host) Commentator Timothy McQuiston says that "Dance with the one that brung yuh" isn't only a good philosophy of life, it's also pretty much the way the state's second largest private employer runs its board.

(McQuiston) Notwithstanding substantial pressure put on by Congressman Bernie Sanders and others, the new Fletcher Allen Health Care Board of Trustees looks remarkably like the old board. Yes, there are four new faces to the 18-member board, with another to be named soon, but the hospital had already announced there would be five or so new members predicated on terms of service ending.

Bernie Sanders brought his booming Brooklyn baritone to the meeting to once again reiterate his concerns. Vermont's lone congressman has kept up the drumbeat of diversifying the board, with trustees coming form the local community, from non-MD employees and even elected officials.

The announcement of the new board was somewhat anticlimactic. That's because those named came from the same pedigree as those now serving. People like Con Hogan, Liz Robert and Bill Schubart are, of course, up-standing members of the community. Hogan has been secretary of the state agency of Health and Human Services, and Robert and Schubart are the CEO's of Vermont Teddy Bear and Resolution Inc. The fourth trustee named was Dr. Wendy Davis, a well-known pediatrician. But naming these four does not shake up the board, as Sanders and others would have like to see. Nor would that be easy to do.

Unlike a traditional publicly traded company, in which the existing board chooses its own new members, the hospital's parent organizations select who they want to represent them. Those four parent members are comprised of the three founding entities of Fletcher Allen, plus the University of Vermont. Those founding members are the University Health Center, the Vermont Health Foundation and Fanny Allen Hospital. The rest of the trustees get no say on whom the parent organizations select. But one of UVM's selection is always the Dean of the College of Medicine. And UHC traditionally picks physicians to represent their interests.

These trustees are hard-working, bright people doing this job without pay for the sake of community service. But they did blow it by not catching the hijinks they admit was being perpetrated by senior management.

I'm not calling for the wholesale, and frankly logistically impossible changes proposed by Congressman Sanders. But I respectfully suggest that there should have been more of a consequence because the board failed in its oversight of the hospital's $300 million project. The trustees responsible for overseeing the Renaissance Project could have voluntarily stepped down. But that didn't happen.

The Renaissance project is important and necessary. But the public's trust has been broken. It will take a lot to get it back. Dramatic changes have been made with regards to cleaning house in upper management. The same should have been done with the board.

This is Timothy McQuiston

Timothy McQuiston is editor of Vermont Business Magazine.
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