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Council approves hospital board deal

January 30, 2019

HUNTINGTON — Huntington City Council members passed an ordinance Monday night that would see them give up the council’s right to appoint people to the Cabell Huntington Hospital Board of Directors in exchange for $1 million.

Before voting, city council members heard from several community members fearing the ordinance would take away the community’s voice in health care matters, put profits before public health or allow people from out of state to be appointed to the board.

Dr. Kevin Yingling, chair of the Cabell Huntington Hospital Board of Directors, said the ordinance would not jeopardize the public’s voice at the hospital. The hospital is bound by state statute to appoint people using guidelines set forth by the city and county to fill those positions.

The Service Employees International Union District 1199, which represents employees at Cabell Huntington, had urged its members to call and attend Monday’s meeting to voice their displeasure. The ordinance passed with an 8-3 vote, with Charlie McComas, Tom McGuffin and Rebecca Howe voting against it.

Under the ordinance, the city would no longer appoint three people to serve on the hospital’s 18-member board in exchange for $1 million to the city’s general fund. Cabell County commissioners voted and approved a similar proposal in November 2018, agreeing to give up their right to appoint three members to the board for $1 million. The move comes as Cabell Huntington works to integrate with with St. Mary’s Medical Center, which it purchased in May 2018. It makes the combined medical network, known as Mountain Health, the second largest in West Virginia.

Cabell Huntington states the new agreement provides an opportunity to assure its board of directors is made of people who are knowledgeable about health care. The hospital also wants the appointments to appear free from political influence.

Several community members and supporters of the union spoke out against the ordinance, warning city council members their political future would hinge upon their decision.

Marilyn Howes, of Huntington, said it is insulting to suggest city council members are not qualified enough to name people to the hospital’s board. She questioned if the $2 million being given by the hospital would come from cuts to employees.

Lief Olsen, a student in Marshall University’s Department of Public Health, said giving up the seats create a disconnect between private and public health. He questioned if the $1 million was worth potentially jeopardizing the public’s trust and understanding of their health care.

“Health care is not about making money,” he said.

Damon Core, a Cabell Huntington Hospital employee, said union members and supporters of the union would organize to vote out of office any city council members in favor of the ordinance.

“Remember we hired you and we can fire you,” Core said. “We will remember in November.”

Yingling said the board would never be made up of non-county residents and any changes to the hospital’s bylaws could not overrule the state statue governing who may be appointed.

The hospital has said St. Mary’s will remain a full-service hospital with its own 16-member board of directors. Members of Cabell Huntington’s board will provide oversight, including the right to remove people or name people to St. Mary’s board. A third board, a Mountain Health Board of Directors, has been tasked with making day-to-day decisions and is made up of members from both hospitals.

Council member Charlie McComas said he is against the deal because the matter comes down to the hospital picking who it wants to serve on the board, no matter what is determined by state law.

“You still get to make that decision,” he said.

Yingling said the ordinance is changing the method the hospital uses to appoint people to the board, not how it is comprised. The board’s nominating committee will recommend potential members, which would then need to be approved by the full 18-members, he said.

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

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