Council to discuss Medical Center situation

Thu, 06/13/2019 - 5:00pm
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With some members of the public calling on the Town Council to open an investigation into the termination of Nurse Practitioner Liz Dyer from her job at the Block Island Medical Center, the council, due to the constraints contained in the service contract that is in place between the facility and the town, has a limited scope of topics it can, in fact, look into.

The council has two agenda items about the Medical Center for its next meeting on Wednesday, June 19.

“We’re limited to the contract service agreement we’ve had with the Medical Center. Eighty to 85 percent [of the document] is facility-related, repair, pay your lease — it’s a dollar a year every year — and keep it insured. There’s just a strong focus on that,” said Town Manager Ed Roberge. Roberge, as did members of the Town Council, suggested one area that the council could look into is Open Meetings Act compliance. “There is an open meetings component, but it’s pretty structured,” said Roberge, but he said otherwise the council may have little leeway. “The health services board is an autonomous board and the council recognizes that. It has the authority to run its own business. We don’t provide direct oversight. They kind of run things on their own.”

Councilor Chris Willi took a slightly broader view. “We would have a responsibility to do what we can do within the confines of the contract agreement the town has with the Medical Center. I don’t know what that allows us to do. I don’t know what we can legally explore or not. Look at the open meeting items that were called into question? That is within our authority and transparency has been an issue. Prior to Dr. Clark coming, open meetings and transparency were a couple of the items. Now I think we may have some of the same issues when you look at the fallout” in the aftermath of the termination of Dyer. “I think the council should explore that as well. I don’t think the council can look at personnel issues. You can’t legally do that, which is understandable. The taxpayers that turned out at the meeting (on June 5) certainly voiced their opinion and I certainly listened.”

Willi said it is the voting members of the Block Island community that can exercise their oversight of funding issues, given that town voters approved $300,000 in public funding for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2019. But Willi said the Medical Center has exercised fiscal responsibility. “Looking at the budget, it has changed far less percentage-wise than, say, the fire department. It’s not been on a steep trajectory, but a low slope trajectory,” he said.

But the recent turn of events had him “certainly concerned,” he said. “When a caregiver for a lot of people on the island gets terminated in the manner that it happened, regardless of what happened, there’s a better way to do it than put her patients at risk. Let them know in advance and phase in another caregiver and phase her out. That’s why people are extremely upset.”

Still, Willi said, “I’m not sure what we can do and to what extent. I’ll review the contract. I think it certainly warrants a discussion. It won’t be brushed aside.”

Councilor Sven Risom echoed others when he referred to the contract. “I think everybody should read the service contract; it’s a public contract.” He also referenced the question of whether the Block Island Health Services Board should adhere to the state Open Meetings Act. “One of the things we have discussed is the open meetings law, so we’ll see what is appropriate.”

Second Warden André Boudreau, said he would look into the role the Town Council liaison to the BIHS Board plays. A liasion was apparently appointed in December 2018, said Boudreau. “I need that role defined,” said Boudreau. “I need to ask how we can access that representative.” He said those questions would be put to town solicitor Kathy Merolla.

When Councilor Martha Ball was asked if the council could investigate personnel issues, she said, “I don’t see how we can.”

“I do not believe ‘investigating’ actions taken by Medical Center personnel are under the purview of the Town Council, nor do I believe any investigation of any body should be launched based upon hearsay, and if people have factual evidence of wrongdoing, of which I’ve seen none, they should pursue it with the Attorney General’s office,” added Ball.