Dr. Clark to stay on at Medical Center, for now

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 7:15pm
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Dr. Mark Clark informed The Times via email on Wednesday that he will remain in his position at the Block Island Medical Center until stability is achieved. Clark serves as Medical Director of the facility.

“I am committed to remaining in my post for the next 12 to 18 months in order to ensure stability through the transition to a new team and continued progress at the Medical Center,” wrote Clark, who noted that “Kyra Ernst resigned and has agreed to continue to work on special projects for BIHS on a contractual, as needed basis. Heather Russo resigned effective June 30 and has taken another position.”

Meanwhile, the Town Council will be exploring whether or not an investigation should be conducted into the termination of Nurse Practitioner Liz Dyer from the Medical Center. The Town Council’s interest in investigating the action taken by the Medical Center was prompted by an outpouring of support for Dyer during the public comment portion of Monday night’s council meeting.

In what has been a turbulent month for the Medical Center and its staff, Dr. Clark terminated Dyer without cause at the end of May, while Clark himself submitted his own letter of resignation on May 1, with an effective date of Nov. 1. During Monday’s meeting, Clark said he would remain at the Medical Center to ensure continuity of service and a high quality of care.

A crowd of people packed into the Town Hall chambers for Monday night’s meeting to voice displeasure over Dyer’s termination, with some calling for the council to investigate the matter. Later during the meeting, Councilor Chris Willi suggested that the council discuss possibly investigating Dyer’s termination as a future agenda item.

Extra seats were added prior to the meeting to accommodate the crowd that gathered in the room. More than 50 people were in attendance for the meeting, with some late arrivals standing in the hallway.

Resident John Willis, a retired doctor who saw patients on the island at one time, spoke first. “There’s something wrong with the Block Island Health Services Board of Directors,” said Willis, who noted that Dyer was his “doctor,” and had saved his life during a medical emergency.

Willis also noted he thought the BIHS board was the main “problem” at the Medical Center. “You need to find out what happened; you need to start an investigation” into Dyer’s termination. “Why was she fired? We don’t even know. Do something. You have the money, honey.”

Willis was referring to the taxpayer funding through community support that the town provides the Medical Center each year. The town funded the Medical Center at $260,000 annually over the past few years, but increased that funding amount to $300,000 for fiscal year 2020.

Resident Rich Tretheway said, “Unless there was a specific reason for the termination of Liz Dyer, I feel the way this termination was executed shows a complete disregard for the Medical Center’s patients. And patients should come first.” He questioned Dr. Clark wielding his power as Medical Director after submitting his resignation, and said the “firing on the cusp of the island’s busy season makes no sense.”

“I believe there is a lack of transparency between the Block Island Medical Center and the Town of New Shoreham,” said Tretheway, who noted that the Medical Center has become a “toxic environment,” and requested that the council form a committee to conduct “a thorough inquiry” of the BIHS board, its business, and the facility.

Aisha Wilson-Formica said she was in attendance to support Dyer, who has provided primary care to her family. “I find fault in her termination without cause. It doesn’t seem fair to me. And I concur with what Doc Willis said; that there should be an internal investigation.”

Annie Hall said she called “the board members after the shocking decision regarding the termination of Liz. Most of them got back to me, which is great, because we are all public servants.” Hall said, “One answer I got was that Liz wasn’t a good fit. I have to say that ninety percent of the people on Block Island are not a good fit. That’s why we live here.”

“I’ve had quality care for a long time; from Dr. Miller to Liz, to Dr. Clark,” said Hall. “We’ve had quality care for a long time out here. And I think a very telling thing is how many people are in this room. People typically only go to meetings when something is wrong. But there’s definitely something wrong, and that’s why this room is standing room only.”

Hall said, “It is our tax dollars that fund the Medical Center, and there is no transparency. Nobody knows what’s going on. People are quitting, or being fired. It’s a mess. And it needs to be fixed.”

Resident Jill Seppa said she also reached out to the BIHS board, and one board member told her “that they did not have access to personnel files. They weren’t privy to the details of the situation. They voted in support of Dr. Clark’s recommendation. So I implore the Town Council to please launch an independent study, done by an unbiased third party, to figure out what happened here.” She also asked if it could be arranged for Dyer to continue to see patients.

Molly O’Neill said, “I want to put in my two cents about the situation at the Medical Center, which I think is appalling. It’s not enough that Dr. Clark disappointed his patients by resigning, effective November 1st, but then to turn around and fire the other caregiver is inexplicable.” O’Neill said Dyer had been her caregiver, and her appointment for Friday had been cancelled.

“So my care has been interrupted,” said O’Neill, who claimed that the BIHS board misrepresented the state of the Medical Center at the Financial Town Meeting in May when it received full funding at $300,000. The board said “everything was great.” O’Neill said the Medical Center has been turned into “an emergency walk-in urgent care center.”

In response, Dr. Clark said he stands by his “reputation, and ethical integrity,” and “every decision that I have made, including the most recent. It is a fact that I cannot and will not discuss personnel issues. Decisions like the most recent personnel decision are never made lightly. They’re never made on a whim. They’re very difficult decisions to make, and usually people are unhappy about them. Every decision that I have made has been, I believe, for the good of this community, and for the good of the Medical Center.”

“If we stop now, I believe, progress will be lost,” said Clark, who noted that the accusation that the termination of Dyer was somehow “a ploy” for contract negotiations was “absurd.”

Clark said he wanted the council to know that he “intends to stay in place” at the Medical Center “to ensure stability.” He talked about “moving through this period to a more stable time. We are staffed for the summer,” he said. “I will make sure that there is continuity of care.”

“I want to reiterate: I came here four years ago, and I had one goal in mind: that was to bring outstanding medical care to Block Island,” said Clark. “My goal of bringing a high standard of quality care has not changed. And that has been the only factor that has driven the decisions that I have made.”

Gobern taxi license

In other news, the Town Council voted unanimously (4-0) to grant Shirlyne Gobern’s request to remain at the top of the taxi license waiting list, while allowing Rich Tretheway to accept the next available license. The council’s vote overturned the Commission on Motor Vehicles for Hire’s decision from its May 15 meeting. The MVFH had decided that Gobern would have to move to the bottom of the list for forfeiting her top spot. Councilor Martha Ball was recused, as she is a taxi owner.

The next Town Council meeting is Wednesday, June 19 at 7 p.m.