In a special Hospital Commission meeting held at Center Stage on Tuesday night, commissioners unanimously voted to end ESH’s management agreement with Alliance. The commission deliberated for an hour before commissioner Barbara Dicks said, “I move that we terminate our agreement with Alliance Management, also known as Darrell Parke and Mark Stearns, effective at 9 a.m., September 23, 2020, and in addition the commission will take immediate action to put in place an interim CEO.”
The Alliance managers were not present, but Chair Dr. John House said Alliance probably knows what’s coming. When House was asked if he agreed with the vote he said, “I think that the commission, given the information that we have, I think the commission made a good decision.”
Commissioners offered no details regarding the firing.
Commissioners asked to steer clear of hospital
The Hospital Commission held a two-hour meeting Sept. 21, using most of that time for Executive Session to discuss a personnel issue. Chair John House said he did not put that item on the agenda and did not disclose who did. After more than an hour behind closed doors the commission announced no decision.
But before the executive session, House used the words “controversy” and “legal trouble” when describing the commission’s current relationship with the newly hired Alliance Management Group. House did not discuss or share contents of the monthly Alliance report and said he had asked co-managers Darrell Parke and Mark Stearns of Alliance not to attend the commission meeting. Hospital Chief Financial Officer Scott Stone attended virtually by Zoom but did not provide any financial information.
While mostly left in the dark with no supporting documentation or conversation regarding the controversy with Alliance, commissioner Barbara Dicks did change her mind regarding loyalty to Alliance. Dicks said in May 2020 when discussing the acceptance of a five-year contract with Alliance, “I totally have my trust in them.”
During preliminary contract negotiation in May, commissioners Tyson Burden, John House, and Christopher Baranyk voiced concerns against Alliance’s proposed annual bonus incentive described as $1 million in addition to salary, but Dicks pushed back and said she had no problem with the proposed plan.
House warned Dicks then that he believed the citizens of Eureka Springs would have a problem with this incentive, but Dicks refused his counsel saying, “I think the bonus is okay.” (See full article at eureka.news/new-lab-equipment-and-longer-management-contract-at-esh/)
Dicks took an about-face Monday night where she said outright, “I don’t trust them [Alliance],” but did not offer any reasons. When asked why the change of opinion, Dicks said, “I am very gullible and I’m very trusting and there are just things that have happened that didn’t set well.”
When asked what those things were, Dicks refused to comment. She complained that Alliance may not merit the, in her words, “big bucks” she previously supported. Dicks can often be found at the hospital where she frequently voluntarily attends the hospital but is not a staff member.
She said that she attempts to oversee management by asking executive staff for information saying, “I’ve asked for documentation, and vendors, and what are we spending and where the money is going, and I’m going to continue to do that.”
House said that this kind of oversight should be done through a committee with Alliance. Dicks was advised Monday night by House that her being in the hospital was not acceptable. House said he had confirmed this advice through both Mayor Butch Berry and legal counsel that, “The commissioners, we, cannot go to the hospital – we can’t go.”
House repeated himself to commissioners, “We can’t go to the hospital, OK? Unless Darrell or Mark says, ‘I would like to meet you there.’” House said if commissioners go to the hospital, “We are in breach of our contract,” therefore he arranged for the commissioners’ files to be removed from the hospital and placed in the clinic at 25 Norris St. so that there will be no need to go to the hospital. House said if the commissioners go to the hospital, “We are going to get into legal trouble.”
Dicks refused House’s advice saying, “I’m not going to stay out of that hospital – I am not breaking the law – and he [Darrell Parke] can’t prove I’m breaking the law.” House attempted one last time, “I’m asking you to, please.” Dicks quickly responded, “Well, I’m saying no,” citing that since her name is on the utilities and insurance, she has a right to involve herself inside the hospital.
Why Dicks’s name is on city-owned property utilities and insurance may be for the city attorney to work out.
Dicks is not the only commissioner who had potentially interfered at the hospital – commissioner Tyson Burden was also said to have been in voluntary attendance of the hospital last week, conducting his own survey of management that he chose not to share with the press when asked.
In addition to warning the commission of their legal responsibility to not go to the hospital, House attempted to address a collective and legal approach for commission oversight of Alliance. House offered an olive branch to Dicks and other commissioners by creating four Oversight Committees. “Our job is to oversee the operation of the hospital,” House said, “Our job is not to run the hospital — our job is not to undermine the people we hired to work in the hospital.”
In so doing, each commissioner could have a specific function in one of the four committees he has designed to oversee and work with Alliance. Dicks said she wanted to be on the Financial Oversight Committee and House agreed while also assigning commissioner Kent Turner to that committee.
House placed Burden on the Contracts & Compliance Oversight Committee, Jean Reed on the Human Resources & Operations Oversight Committee, and Michael Merry to Marketing & Services Oversight Committee. “By having these committees that can meet and come back to the commission with reports,” House said, “it allows us to get more done and to provide better oversight in a way that’s legal, ok?”
The press requested a copy of the Alliance report but did not receive it before deadline. The press was also not provided the September medical staff minutes that were approved by the commission.
Commission appointed Burden to the Vice-Chair position, and Treasurer Barbara Dicks reported the total cash balance of $1.64 million. Agenda items not addressed were working relationships; new hospital logo; and the tour of the hospital radiology room and laboratory.
The next regular meeting is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 19.