Sunshine Clinic: Keith Kehoe Resigns, the Board Hears Concerned Patients, and Board President Tom Phillips Answers Questions

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On Tuesday night, the Board of Directors for the Sunshine Community Health Center held their regular monthly meeting. Some new information was shared regarding Executive Director David Bryant. This came after members of the community voiced concerns over what they see as troubling developments at the Sunshine and Willow Clinics that began with the non-renewal of Dr. Mary Loeb’s contract in June.

Tuesday night’s meeting of the SCHC Board of Directors began with tensions running high.  After a significant delay so that the Board could be presented with the annual financial audit, the more than thirty community members in attendance to speak or observe at the meeting were told that only one person would be allowed into the conference room at a time.  There was immediate and vocal opposition, and the Board soon decided to open the doors and allow the public in.

Members of the community spoke to the Board for nearly an hour.  While some of their views echoed previous meetings, many spoke with renewed concern, due to the resignation on Tuesday of Physician’s Assistant Keith Kehoe.  The news that the Clinic, which is already missing one long-time provider, will also be losing Kehoe caused some speakers to express concern regarding how they would continue to receive care, including nurse and former Clinic employee Duronda Twigg.

“A majority of us tonight have seen the same providers for over ten years.  Our children have seen the same providers all their lives.  What happens to the healthcare patients when services are cut?”

Twigg also says that her intent is to speak on behalf of members of the community who, for financial or health reasons, have no alternative to the Sunshine Clinic.

“…the population that cannot afford or have the means to travel 70-plus miles to obtain what they need for their health.  That’s why the Clinic was created in the first place.”

Other speakers said that they have already experienced difficulty in securing medical appointments, scheduling vaccinations for children, obtaining controlled substances from the Dispensary, and receiving test results. One speaker, Karen Timmers says that her husband was experiencing severe sciatica, a symptom that can cause pain and weakness in the legs, and was rendered nearly immobile.  She says that her husband was unable to get an appointment at the Clinic, and had go to a facility in Anchorage for care.

“We begged.  We begged for him to get seen, because when we called the Clinic, they said, ‘We’re sorry.  Even if he does get seen, we can’t give him any narcotics.  We have nothing to do for him.’  So, he crawled back and forth on the floor for four days.”

In addition to concern over the ability to receive care, many speakers were critical of the relative lack of information that has been provided by the Clinic and the Board since the original issue of Dr. Loeb’s contract first arose in late June.  At the last three Clinic Board meetings, some members of the community have called for action that would remove Executive Director David Bryant from decision-making and asked for updates on his status. In the past, Board President Tom Phillips, has declined to give details on what actions the Board is taking regarding personnel issues.  He did offer some answers on Tuesday, however.

First, has the Board considered placing Executive Director Bryant on leave and bringing in an interim ED?

“The answer is yes.  We rejected that idea.  By way of legal counsel, we took that choice.  The rest of that has to do with personnel issues I can’t go into.”

Has the Board considered bringing back former Executive Director Sharon Montagnino on an interim basis?

“Considered it, yes.  Is it the right thing to do, now?  No.  Because we already have someone on the payroll–we’re already paying a salary–we have to get past that part before we can commit the Clinic to spending more money.  When you’re already paying for a job, you can’t put two people in the same position and pay two salaries to do one job.”

Has the Board constrained Mr. Bryant’s decision-making abilities?

“The answer is yes.  Again, it’s a personnel issue I can’t go into, but we have.  Ok?  We’re trying to make steps in the right direction.”

Tom Phillips says that the Board has considered the relative cost of taking swift action versus a longer approach with regard to the removal of Mr. Bryant as Executive Director, but that estimates provided by the community that favor quick action do not adequately take the possibility for legal liability into account. Finally, he answered another question that has often been repeated: Can he put a timeline on the negotiations that the attorneys representing the Clinic and Mr. Bryant are involved in?

“The timeline I can throw at you is three to six more months. Ok?  I’m being honest with you.”

While many present were not pleased with the timeline presented, it is more information than has been provided in meetings or interviews in the past.  For now, Executive Director Bryant and Board President Tom Phillips say that the Clinic is working on securing providers to continue to provide care at both the Sunshine and Willow locations.

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