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A blueprint to restructure Fletcher Allen

02/18/03 12:00AM By Timothy McQuiston
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(Host) Commentator Timothy McQuiston says there's a way that the Fletcher Allen Board of Trustees might reorganize to allow for more public input.

(McQuiston) The final shoe has yet to drop but one fell last Thursday when eight - count them, eight - Fletcher Allen Health Care trustees tendered their resignations. Their action came one day after Governor Douglas called for them to do just that. Douglas wanted all the trustees who sat on the Fletcher Allen board during the catastrophic planning for the Renaissance Project to quit. He said the board needed a clean slate in order to restore the public's trust.

The only such trustee not to step down was Chair Louise McCarren. McCarren, who announced the resignations, said she needed to stay to ensure continuity. There's not only the $350 million construction project and its on-going problems to deal with, there's the search for a permanent CEO.

Last Thursday at the hospital, McCarren faced the bright lights of a hastily called press conference alone. No Ed Colodny, the hospital's interim CEO, or any other board members this time, as had been the case during recent press conferences. Journalists checked their watches as deadlines approached, but McCarren remained characteristically straightforward and unflappable. She said the trustees who were quitting did so in what they believed was in the best interest of the institution. They will leave the board once replacements have been found.

If the resignation of much of the board is one shoe to fall, then the other will be how the board is restructured, if at all. The hospital's four parent organizations each select four trustees. Their choices are irrevocable and non-negotiable. The parent organizations are the University of Vermont, the two merged hospitals that used to be known as Medical Center Hospital of Vermont and Fanny Allen Hospital, and the doctor's group that used to be called University Health Center.

There are 18 total trustees. The last two are the chairman and the CEO. Now many people, most notably and loudly Congressman Bernie Sanders, have demanded that the board reorganize to allow for more public input. Because of the complex nature of the institution's governance and bylaws, a radical transformation would be a difficult undertaking.

But here's one simple solution. Just increase the number of board members. Each of the four parent organizations could choose one or two additional public members. Or maybe, the governor is allocated one appointment. The mayor of Burlington gets to fill another, and the Legislature gets to fill the last two, one of whom must come from the health care community to sit with the doctors' group.

While 22 or 26 board members would be a lot for a private business, it's common in non-profits, and Fletcher Allen is the largest non-profit in the state. This would spread the pain among all four parent organizations. The public would be represented and the politicians would be accountable.

This is Timothy McQuiston.

Timothy McQuiston is editor of Vermont Business magazine.
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