Union opposes city, county giving up rights on hospital board

November 30, 2018

HUNTINGTON - A union representing Cabell Huntington Hospital employees announced Thursday it’s opposed to elected officials giving up their rights, in exchange for money, to name people to the hospital’s board of directors.

Earlier this month, Cabell County commissioners approved a deal that will give up their ability to name people to the hospital’s 18-member board of directors in exchange for a one-time payment of $1 million. Members of Huntington City Council are now considering a similar deal, which will be discussed during a meeting next month.

Cabell Huntington Hospital wants control over who sits on its board of directors as it seeks to complete the acquisition of St. Mary’s Medical Center, which will make the combined medical center the second largest in West Virginia.

The Service Employees International Union District 1199, a Columbus, Ohio-based union that represents thousands of health care employees in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky, said in a statement the hospital is at risk of losing representation from the local community.

“The public deserves a seat at the table when it comes to our local hospitals,” said Joyce Gibson, regional director for SEIU District 1199, which represents workers at Cabell Huntington Hospital and currently supports workers’ efforts to organize at St. Mary’s Medical Center. “Our Huntington City Council should not sell out our community voice and give wealthy, out-of-touch corporate executives greater power over the future of our community’s health and well-being.”

Since Cabell Huntington Hospital converted from a public hospital to a nonprofit in 1987, City Council members and county commissioners have appointed members to the hospital’s board of directors based on certain guidelines, including representation of different ages, sexes and social classes.

Cabell Huntington Hospital board of directors President Dr. Kevin Yingling this week told members of the city of Huntington’s Administration and Finance Committee the hospital is operating under a “clunky” organizational structure in the midst of the acquisition.

The hospital is working with a board of directors from both Cabell Huntington Hospital and St. Mary’s Medical Center as well as the Mountain Health Network board of directors, which oversees both hospitals. The deal with the city and county would put the hospital in a position to create one board to oversee both hospitals together in the future, Yingling said.

Yingling said the hospital promises to follow the original guidelines set by the city and county on whom to appoint to the board. All city- and county-appointed board members would remain until their terms expire by at least 2020, he said.

“Contrary to the assertions of SEIU District 1199, the Cabell Huntington Hospital board will continue to be made up of a broad cross-section of community members. State law requires that a minimum of 40 percent of a nonprofit hospital’s board of directors be representatives of low-income persons, the elderly, organized labor and small business,” said Lisa Chamberlin Stump, vice president of strategic marketing, planning and business development at the hospital, in a statement in response to the union announcement.

“As the agreement with the city and county recognizes, Cabell will continue to follow those requirements, including the appointment of representatives of organized labor. All additional members of the Cabell board will be members of the communities served by the hospital.”

However, Gibson said the deal will likely disconnect the public from everyday matters involving the future of the hospital.

“These hospitals are where so many of us have been born, worked, had children, had family fight through ill health,” Gibson said. “These hospitals belong to the people of Huntington, and allowing corporate executives to strong-arm local elected officials into giving up these seats on the hospital’s board means that we will lose our voice to the wealthy and well-connected.”

Commissioners said they supported the deal because the $1 million could be used to offset the loss of property taxes while the hospital expands in size and builds new offices. That money could be used to help pay some of the county’s debt, including a steep regional jail bill, commissioners said.

Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said he supports the deal because the hospital is more qualified to name people to serve on its board than the city is. The state of health care has become too complicated and needs to be “void of political influence,” Williams said.

The $1 million would be placed in the city’s general fund to spend on whatever City Council chooses. City Council members will discuss the proposal during a Dec. 10 meeting.

Angela Henderson-Bentley, manager of public relations at St. Mary’s Medical Center, forwarded questions to Cabell Huntington Hospital.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.

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