NIH chief of staff steps down

By Deb Murphy

Northern Inyo Hospital District’s Wednesday board meeting was rough. The board of directors and CEO Victoria Alexander-Lane seem to be taking incremental changes to smooth things out. But for NIH’s chief of staff, it may be too late.

Dr. Thomas Boo, former Chief of Staff, Leo Freis, Chief Operating Officer and Victoria Alexander-Lane, Chief Executive Officer

Dr. Thomas Boo, former Chief of Staff, Leo Freis, Chief Operating Officer and Victoria Alexander-Lane, Chief Executive Officer

At the start of his staff report, Dr. Thomas Boo announced he was stepping down as NIH chief of staff due to “a dysfunctional relationship with the CEO.” His statement was met with stunned silence from approximately 100 people in the audience and no words from the board.

The board did respond to staff concern over a change in the hospital’s complaint and grievance policy. Rather than approve the change that would remove the board as a last resort in the complaints and grievance process, board member Dr. John Ungersma moved that the policy be tabled and that the language in the hospital’s progressive discipline process be scrutinized and made more clear. The grievance policy was the only one up for a vote, but the board recognized that the two policies were connected. Board member Pete Watercott opened the door to have the board possibly make the determination that the progressive discipline process was followed in disputed cases.

During the public comment period, Denise Morrill, a member of the nurse’s union organizing committee, read the 17 references to “at will” and “sole discretion” in four pages of the hospital’s progressive discipline policy. The references made it clear that discipline and termination were well within the purview of administration.

The explanations for both the grievance policy and disciplinary language all made sense; but within the context of the current morale among staff, both just added fuel to the fire. “I have never seen a hospital where staff and employees could go to the board” with grievances, said Chief Operating Officer Leo Freis. Freis noted that the language in the discipline policy was “scary. California is an at-will state, but that’s not how it works here. We do progressive discipline. Your fear is real,” he said to the nurses. “But with the union you no longer have that fear. Georgan Stottlemyre (NIH’s chief of human resources) will not let us do anything but progressive discipline.”

Other managers spoke in favor of approving the policy change that would eliminate the board from the process; an RN spoke of bad experiences at other hospital and the fact he appreciated the fact that at NIH he could go to the board with grievances.

It was union organizing committee member Heleen Welvaart who suggested that the language in the progressive discipline policy be fixed first. Ungersma agreed.

Another issue that has surfaced in board meeting discussions is the hospital’s Family and Medical Leave policy. The board and CEO maintained that staff who exceeded the standard 16-week leave were rehired at their former pay scale, assuming their previous job level was still open. “That’s not what the policy says,” was the response from audience members.

Toward the end of the meeting, Lane gave the board an update on the hospital’s Strategic Plan. One of those items was a comprehensive communication plan which she acknowledged was being worked on.

The public comment period at the start of the meeting set the tone. Dr. Mike Phillips attributed the “permeating fear” among staff on a failure of leadership and asked that the board “see that this is worked out now. I hope you can fix this.” Dr. Michael Dillion noted the number of perceptions on the part of staff, administrators and the board. “We have to be a team and work together,” he said calling for a working group with representatives from all levels at the hospital to face the issue. “We need restraint. The problems here preceded the administrator. We need to face the problems and solve them as a group.”

And the big news, NIH Chief of Staff Dr. Thomas Boo announced he was stepping down as chief due to a “dysfunctional relationship with the administrator.”


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5 Responses to NIH chief of staff steps down

  1. Get out May 29, 2015 at 4:57 pm #

    Dr. Boo is a great man – a great leader and fought a battle that was / is impossible to fight to win but only survive to the next battle. The board needs to be changed. It can only be done by election – but it is simple to change next year – most members had no one running against them – you can run as long as you live and own property in Bishop. Real change will come from fresh people with open ideas and solutions. One of the board members is a cook – no business experience. When the board is changed with real people that care then the hospital policy can change and the staff and employees can grow and be safe in their work – building a better community and place to live.

  2. Walk away March 24, 2015 at 8:47 pm #

    When the going gets tough, the tough… Quit and walk away??? Although I think of Dr Boo as a very respectable man of this community, I don’t think him walking away was the right thing to do. As a leader, you need to go to the table and keep going back if you’re passionate about something. Walking away does nobody any good. So for the lynch mob that chooses to call Ms. Lane “ineffective”, it appears to me that the ineffecacy lies within on both sides.

  3. Concerned March 24, 2015 at 1:34 pm #

    Although I agree with many that Ms. Lane behavior has been ineffective as a leader at NIH and at this point I don’t think the damage she has done is repairable, I also think that this is bigger than Ms Lane and the poor leadership of the NIH board of directors. This board was just as complacent with John Halfen and has created a culture of entitlement among upper management. Ms. Lane only feed the dysfunctional management culture at NIH.
    The sad part about this whole situation is that is boils down to one word, respect. Employees do not feel valued, they do not feel like they are respected by upper management and lastly they do not feel safe. The HR department serves the NIH management and employees do not have true advocates. In the past employees who have filed grievances have been subject to additional scrutiny and progressive discipline and eventual termination. What is the message to the employees, we have policies and we will enforce them but we have a different standard for management.

    I know that there are good people on the board that do care, but they need to listen to the employees. NIH has a good staff and they deserve respect. They do not need to continue to be threatened with termination or reminded on a regular basis that they are at will employees, it doesn’t motivate them it degrades them.

  4. John D March 23, 2015 at 6:01 pm #

    The Board should see that it is time for the CEO to step down. She has been the focus of the problems at NIH which has resulted in a dysfunctional Administration and needs to step aside, ASAP!

  5. stunned March 23, 2015 at 4:42 pm #

    The chief of staff steps down because of the CEO and somehow that’s ok?


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