Former commissioner questions hospital commission’s decision

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An exclusive interview with former Eureka Springs Hospital commissioner Dr. Christopher Baranyk reveals his alarm over the commission’s recent “knee-jerk” decision to fire Alliance Management Group.

“As a citizen it’s concerning that we worked so hard to get someplace and it was so quickly unraveled,” Baranyk said. He served on the commission for two years through July 2020 at the request of Mayor Butch Berry.

Baranyk said he hopes people are paying attention to the breadcrumbs left by the commission.

“I don’t understand what happened in literally the two months since I left. We worked so hard for two years,” Baranyk, citing monthly reports from Alliance showing progress, said.

Baranyk said he fully expected commissioners to abide by their Alliance agreement, that went through 2023, to continue.

Baranyk was a commissioner while removing the old regime [Allegiance] in 2019 and bidding out and awarding Alliance with the 2019 temporary contract to transition the hospital from lease to ownership. In June he helped negotiate the three-year contract with Alliance. But as soon as his tenure was up, commissioners made a drastic decision leaving him to ask, “What the hell just happened?”

Alliance was hired to manage the hospital, and that meant they were in charge of making strategic staffing decisions. Baranyk said commissioners agreed to the contract, which is specific about commissioner interference; providing Alliance opportunities to correct issues; and how to terminate if so deemed.

All three issues were ignored by the commission, and Baranyk gave his opinion on why. “I feel that Barbara [Commissioner Dicks] has a large role to play in what happened. To me this was all propagated by Barbara,” referring to her open refusal of Dr. House’s request to not go to the hospital, her next-day hospital attendance after being asked not to attend, making a motion the same day to fire Alliance immediately, and that she was the most vocal commissioner after interim CEO Vicki Andert was terminated.

Baranyk referred specifically to the executive session August 27 resulting in commissioners voting to rehire Andert after Alliance terminated her. “Isn’t that them getting involved with the hiring or firing of people at the hospital?” he asked.

Barbara Dicks responded by phone on Tuesday, “I did not interfere with Alliance.”

When asked if the commission considered the cost of terminating Alliance, she said, “Yes, we considered that, very much so.” She added that the termination has not been resolved and acknowledged there could be legal action.

Baranyk described how the action of the commission to rehire a terminated employee contradicts with what was promised to the public. “If you are going to basically tell the community that these are the rules and we are not going to follow them, and then have secret meetings and fire somebody over it, and you expect us just to trust what is going on—I’m sorry you’re breaking our trust when you already broke the rules to begin with.”

Baranyk believes Andert’s termination was necessary and should have been supported by the commission in accordance with their contractual agreement with Alliance. “Change is painful—change is difficult,” he said. “So, if this isn’t some sort of corruption, if this isn’t some sort of connections, I don’t know what it is.”

“I do think it’s interesting that Andert’s termination caused a ripple in the commission that caused the termination of Alliance. How deep does this corruption run? I just don’t understand how that event triggered a cascade of events that caused Darrell [Parke] and Mark [Stearns] to be terminated against every single thing on their contract.”

The contract says that 180-days’ notice will be given. “How did six months in the contract turn into six minutes?” Baranyk asked. “You touted Alliance, and then you fire them with no discussion?”

Baranyk said the commission hired Alliance to make tough decisions, “It was necessary for the healing of the hospital—trying to clean-house and some people didn’t like it.

“In a Covid pandemic, is this the time to experiment? I am very concerned about the direction the commission has taken the hospital now, and I think they owe it to the public to give them some kind of an explanation for the actions taken with those very quick back-to-back executive meetings.  

“What have the commissioners done to inform the public? Thought processing is very important to human beings and we need to have communication—not closed-door sessions,” referring to multiple executive sessions held with no explanation or documentation to the public of why they decided to fire Alliance.

“We need to have a way to deal with what is going on,” said Baranyk, “and the only way that is going to happen is through communication from the commission to the public.

“And how is it the commission has kept council so out of the loop?” he asked.

This goes back to Feb. 1, when the city accepted full ownership of the hospital and added approximately 68 employees to the city administration roster—nearly doubling the size of the city’s total staff.

“And yet, there was not a single city council agenda item to discuss or approve this kind of liability increase,” Baranyk said. “You would think that they would have some kind of inquiry as to how it is that the commission just hired a CEO for the city’s hospital and literally three months later, fired the CEO.

“If something that big happened I would be interested in understanding the details as to why, because to me if you go and terminate somebody and do not follow the steps in the contract, that sets you up for litigation, and since you are a city entity, it sets the city up for litigation.

“I would hope that the people who were involved, the hospital commission, thought past the hurt feelings of the tension of I guess a friend being fired, and thought about the long-term ramifications of the decision that they made.

“Again, you don’t go into a meeting and come out and terminate these folks—it doesn’t work like that—that’s not the way the law works—you have a binding contract. We are supposed to be protecting the city—we are supposed to be truthful and honest. Maybe Alliance did do something horrible but let us know what it is!

“To me, if you don’t like someone because of a personality conflict or they are doing something wrong, you follow the contract, and you go through the steps because those steps buy you time to interview new CEOs to manage the hospital—you don’t just fire somebody on a whim and then just think that’s okay and expect no repercussions. To me, the commission needs to be held responsible for their actions.”

One area of focus that had not yet been fully addressed was Human Resources. “What is the necessity with the combination lock on the door? Why is HR upstairs locked away from the employees?” Baranyk asked. “I was under the impression that HR was supposed to be available to employees at any time they need it. You are supposed to have an open-door policy for the folks you care for.”

Baranyk was criticized by at least one commissioner in the past for not doing enough for the city. Baranyk is a member of the U.S. Army National Guard with five years of service and has been in the U.S. Army for 13 years now serving as a Lieutenant Colonel, runs a full-time family medical clinic in Eureka Springs, and provides pro bono wound care to nursing home residents during the pandemic. 

When it was time to reapply for a second term in August, Baranyk informed Berry that he may be deployed by the Army at some point in the next year. Berry recommended he forgo his seat on the commission. Knowing now what has happened, Baranyk said he wishes he had stayed to help prevent what he called an “echo chamber” on the commission.

An echo chamber, as he described it, is an un-diverse group of individuals which allow resonance of one voice from the same perspective. Baranyk said he asked the mayor to place more diverse individuals on the commission “including different socio-economic backgrounds and minorities.”

In addition to council oversight, commission transparency, and membership diversity, Baranyk recommends the mayor and city council consider passing commission term limits. But as things are now Baranyk’s hope for the future of the hospital is not cheery. “You are not a leader just because you shout the loudest, you are not a leader because you are the most argumentative, you are leader when you take into consideration all the facts.” 

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