Clark announces plans to stay ‘indefinitely’

Thu, 06/20/2019 - 6:45pm
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Dr. Mark Clark has rescinded his letter of resignation and announced that he plans on staying on at the Block Island Medical Center “indefinitely.”

Clark made the announcement at the annual members meeting of the Block Island Health Services Board of Directors. It came at the end of his director’s report, and was greeted by enthusiastic cheers and applause from many members of the audience.

The meeting was held in the cafeteria of the Block Island School on Monday, June 17 before a standing-room only crowd. Some of those assembled were not members of the Medical Center, and were there to express their opinions, both for and against, about recent personnel changes at the Medical Center, including the fact that Dr. Clark had himself submitted a letter of resignation that became public on May 17, 2019, and then later fired Nurse Practitioner Liz Dyer on Tuesday, May 28. Clark later stated he intended to stay on for another 12 to 18 months, but he has announced those plans have also been set aside.

While many stood to praise either Clark or Dyer, some stood to criticize the Board of Directors for its handling of the situation, with some audience members stating that Clark should not be a member of the board while also maintaining his role as Medical Director of the Center. Island resident Verna Littlefield offered perhaps the sharpest criticism, saying the board “really has gone down hill. I’m sorry to say that, but they didn’t listen to the people in the office who run things there.” She suggested that a lawyer go over the bylaws of the Medical Center, and, when her two-minute limit was repeatedly called, Littlefield said defiantly, “I will stay up here as long as it takes to say what I have to say.” Littlefield then went on to say that as a taxpayer she shouldn’t have to pay dues to be a member and she again criticized changes to the BIHS bylaws.

The meeting itself started on a contentious note. Audience member Sean McGarry, who identified himself as the partner of Dyer, stood to make a motion that BIHS Board President Cindy Baute had “exceeded” her term as Chair of the BIHS and that she step down immediately. The motion was seconded and McGarry called for a vote. After some members said “yea” to the vote, McGarry said “I would say the motion passes.”

Given there were no microphones, some members in the audience began to shout. “We don’t even know what you said!” someone yelled. “Nobody can hear anything at all!” someone else said.

Without acknowledging the vote, Baute then announced that she had changed the order of the items on the agenda to allow four interns working at the Medical Center to give a presentation on preventive care, which then opened the formal part of the meeting.

After the presentation, Clark gave his annual report, which focused on the growth and expansion of services the Medical Center has provided during the past four years, its increasing number of primary care patients, and a more robust revenue stream. “Our budget is balanced and our revenue is increasing,” Clark stated, after which he thanked Finance Director Terri Chmiel.

“The standard of health care should be no different on Block Island than it is on the mainland,” said Clark.

It was then he announced that “Michael and I intend to stay on the island indefinitely to continue the work started at the Medical Center.” After the applause and the cheers, the business portion of the meeting started, with the chairs of various committees providing their reports.

McGarry then asked for a point of order by saying that a vote was needed by the Board to change the agenda.

“I didn’t change it, I just re-ordered it,” said Baute.

“That is changing it,” said McGarry; however, the meeting continued.

Nancy Ruddle gave the membership report, stating that the Medical Center had 570 dues-paying members, bringing in roughly $48,000 in revenue. Pat Doyle gave a fundraising report and Ray Torrey offered the maintenance report, saying “We’re in good shape as far as the physical plant goes.”

Susan Stover announced that $1 million had been raised for a $7.5 million capital campaign that is designed to “ensure the quality of care that Block Island deserves. Bob Greenlee said a search committee had been formed to find a successor to Dyer.

Baute then opened up the floor to public comment, which was begun by resident John Willis, who said that he had been a resident on the island for 40 years and that he was there to “speak on behalf of Liz Dyer. “My doctor is gone. Why is she gone? I don’t know.” Willis said the focus of the Medical Center should be on family care, not emergency or trauma care, and said that Dyer performed the role of “family doctor.” He finished by saying “Liz should be reinstated, and reinstated immediately.”

Resident Karen Hediger called Dr. Clark “an accomplished professional” and said the circumstances involving staff at the Medical Center would remain unknown but that “we have to rely on the professionals in charge to make decisions. A professional decision was made and I am sure it was not made lightly.” She suggested the island deal with the issue of staffing “objectively, not subjectively.”

Resident Naomi Kerest said “there have been profound changes at the Medical Center” and added that “it may be time to tone down the rhetoric and give a chance to evolve from this dark period.” She praised Clark’s “achievements, integrity, and ethical commitments.”

Resident Rich Tretheway said he “would like to see a realignment of the Board of Directors,” saying that the board was “violating the agreement with the town on the Open Meetings Act.” Tretheway added that he felt Clark should not be a member of the Board, and said the firing of Dyer will end up in “litigation that will cost us dearly.” Resident Chris Warfel agreed, saying the “Board needs to direct the doctor” and said that a “medical director who is also somehow responsible for finances is not a natural fit.”

Kay Lewis, who is a former member of the BIHS Board, said the staffing decisions at the Center “should not be a public, political matter.” She reminded the audience that the details of the termination of a previous town manager were kept from the public eye, and this situation was no different. She added that “we have a greatly improved medical center and have a glimpse of how it can be in the future.”

Resident Molly O’Neill said she was “still reeling” from Dyer’s termination and said she did “not have continuity of care… My care is interrupted and I’m not happy about it.”

Resident Arlene Tunney asked Clark directly about what he meant by staying on the island. “Are you going to be here 24/7?”

Clark said that staffing schedules have not changed. “It’s never been one person at all times, it’s never been one provider,” noting that he and Dyer had rotated as the primary care givers. “That will be the same style moving forward,” adding that “I don’t think we’ve compromised care at all.”