Hospital, foundation dispute goes public
The Sept. 6 meeting of the Sonoma Valley Health Care District board became a war of words when Carolyn Stone, former chair of the Sonoma Valley Hospital Foundation, accused hospital board members and Sonoma Valley Hospital CEO Kelly Mather of bullying her and her board, which lead the entire board to resign on July 16.
The accusations came moments after the hospital board read a resolution praising Stone and her 27 years as chair of the foundation board. In a response, Stone read from a prepared statement, “…that was a very nice resolution but it does not relate at all to the cause for this situation. The cause is the vicious bullying of the foundation board by your CEO Kelly Mather, and your hospital boardmembers Madolyn Agrimonti and Sharon Nevins. We have documents under the names of all three that prove this beyond any doubt.”
While the board did not respond to Stone during the meeting, during a later interview with the Index-Tribune, Mather said, “We are sorry Mrs. Stone has interpreted our actions as bullying. She has been a wonderful part of Sonoma Valley and that has never been the intention.”
In addressing hospital board Chair Peter Hohorst at the end of her statement, Stone said, “The foundation has told you, Peter, and we hope that you have related this to the hospital board, that the hospital board needed to implement a positive, long-term solution to this hospital board and CEO policy problem. If you did not do that, we would release the aforementioned documents to the public.”
Upon leaving the meeting, Stone handed the Index-Tribune a file of documents, including the minutes of the July 6 meeting of the foundation board, a memorandum of understanding from both the district and the foundation outlining how the two entities would coexist, and a May 11 memo from Mather to the foundation board titled “Request to cover all foundation staff expenses.” The hospital declined to answer many of the Index-Tribune’s queries on the record.
“We want to be gracious,” Mather said.
The foundation has been a private, nonprofit organization for 30 years. Its sole mission is to fund needed equipment for the hospital, which was largely accomplished through special events such as the Magic of Christmas and Celebration of Women.
The foundation hired executive director Harmony Plenty in 2010, who also worked part-time in the hospital’s development department. The foundation and the hospital agreed to split the cost of Plenty’s salary; but when unrestricted donations dried up, the foundation did not have the funds to cover her salary costs.
Stone told the Index-Tribune that although the foundation didn’t always have an executive director, in past years, the hospital covered that expense, along with providing office space with computer and phone access, office supplies, postage and other costs.
“We went back to the hospital and asked them to do what they used to do, and Kelly just reamed us,” Stone said. Officials at the hospital declined to comment on whether it paid for a foundation director in the past.
In the May 11 memo, “Request to cover all foundation staff expenses,” the hospital agreed, “…in addition to the expenses we currently cover, which include overhead, insurance, space, equipment and an annual audit, we will cover this additional $72,000 annual expense until Dec. 30, 2012.” It was an offer that came with conditions. Because “…some concerns about the (foundation’s) operations have surfaced,” in exchange for the $72,000, the hospital required the foundation to submit a “financial recovery plan,” participate in an annual audit, implement a nominating committee for board officers, comply with a “conflict of interest policy,” develop a strategic plan and sign a confidentiality agreement, among other things. It also stated that all expenditures, including event and newsletter costs, be reviewed by the executive director “who is responsible for ensuring the foundation stays within budget.”
In a prepared statement, Mather said, “It appears that the foundation board Chair Carolyn Stone and the rest of the foundation board interpreted these stipulations and concerns as a ‘takeover’ of the foundation…. This was not the intention of the hospital; it was seen rather as a necessary and business-like action at a time of financial instability for the foundation. The intent was to require certain actions that would assist the foundation on getting back on track financially and operationally.”
Mather explained that in the 30 years of the foundation, the two entities had remained autonomous, and had never established a memorandum of understanding outlining how the two organizations would coexist.
The district presented the foundation with an MOU that was never signed, which Stone highlighted before passing it to the Index-Tribune. The highlighted portion states that the foundation must make its books and financial records available to the hospital, and that the foundation must participate in an annual audit. Agrimonti and Nevins worked with Mather in negotiating with the foundation.
“It is puzzling why these two hospital board members, elected by the public, could possibly think that they are authorized to endorse and participate in the coercion of the foundation board by the hospital administration,” Stone read in her statement. “It also is very clear that the other three hospital board members… endorse and support the administrative policy established by CEO Kelly Mather that bullying is the correct procedure to achieve her goals.”
When asked to explain what bullying she encountered, Stone said she and other foundation board members were blocked from entering their office space at the hospital. “I think it (the bullying) is pretty well clear, we were blocked from going into our office,” she said. “We were told we could not go into the building or use any of the supplies.”
Stone also pointed to the minutes of the July 6 foundation board meeting, where Agrimonti made a presentation stating that the October Dancing with the Stars fundraiser would “be the last event for the foundation board.”
“We said, ‘Gee, it looks like you want us to leave.’ And they said, ‘We do,’” Stone said. “It’s nasty business and you don’t do that to volunteers.”
In response to these accusations, hospital officials provided the following prepared statement: “We believe these changes were necessary to ensure the financial stability and integrity of the foundation. Mrs. Stone has been an important part of the foundation’s success and we appreciate all the time and effort she has put forward.”
After Stone read her statement, the hospital board continued the meeting by unanimously agreeing to pass the resolution honoring her, which stated, “These events and other fundraising activities have raised over $7 million for the hospital during Carolyn J. Stone’s tenure as chair of the Sonoma Valley Hospital Foundation.”
Despite Stone’s accusations, in its next action on Thursday, the hospital board extended Mather’s contract with the hospital (see story in the Sept. 11 Index-Tribune). Boardmember Bill Boerum pointed out that each board member was elected to be a voice for the people of the district in the hospital’s management.
“We represent the community,” he said. “I hope that the community recognizes the great talent that Kelly has…”
The foundation continues despite the mass exodus of board members, now under the leadership of Agrimonti, Nevins and the newly elected Jim Lamb. Dancing with the Stars was canceled for 2012. Mather stated that the $240,000 remaining in the foundation’s account would be used judiciously. Those funds were restricted for specific projects and could not be used on Plenty’s salary.
“We, the hospital, are taking whatever steps are necessary to ensure that donor intent is being followed,” she said of the funds.