County commissioners will appoint three members next month to the hospital board, a volunteer entity that oversees hospital operations. Commissioners interviewed candidates one at a time and asked about their views and goals in several different areas.
The status of nursing care at the hospital was one issue each candidate was asked about, prompted by Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick.
“We have had issues with the nursing staff in my opinion in the past three or four years,” Kirkpatrick told applicants. “The quality of nursing care is one of the concerns I have.”
Dr. Mark Jaben, a former ER doctor applying for the board, said the hospital is not investing enough in its nurses and trying to cut costs on nursing staff in terms of pay, the number of nurses and training.
“What’s happening is the experienced nurses are leaving for Harris and for Mission. The hospital is increasingly being filled with new graduates that come and stay for one or two years and then leave,” Jaben said. “When you bring in new nurses, that’s not to say they can’t become great nurses, but it takes a commitment to support them and train them.”
Jaben said keeping nurses doesn’t have to be solely about pay. Jaben said those in the health care industry primarily want to provide quality patient care. “If you had nurses who were appreciated in their jobs, who were supported in their job, who had tools to do their job,” they wouldn’t make a decision to leave over pay, said Jaben.
Dr. Henry Nathan, another applicant for the hospital board, agreed.
“I think we do have super nurses, but I think they are not supported by nursing administration,” Nathan said. “For years they have come to the nursing administration saying ‘Could we do this, could we do that,’ and the answer is always ‘no,’” Nathan said.
Commissioner Larry Ammons said the theme about losing good nurses was so prevalent during the hospital board interviews that he planned to mention the county commissioners’ concerns with the situation to hospital CEO David Rice.
Dr. Nancy Freeman, a current hospital board member re-applying for her seat, said the hospital has recently launched a reorganization of nursing that will hopefully rectify some of the problems. However, some nurses have said they do not like the reorganization and plan to leave.
Surgery center called into question
Nathan, Jaben and Dr. Luis Munoz questioned the priorities of the hospital administration and hospital board regarding a $15 million surgery center that is currently in the planning stages.
“If they have the money to do that, why don’t they spend that money on the care of patients? Why not spend the money hiring a sufficient number of nurses and training nurses? That’s where the money ought to go,” Jaben said.
Munoz said a new surgery center of that magnitude has the potential to be a “white elephant.”
“It seems like an awful lot of money. I don’t know if we need a $15 million facility,” Munoz said.
The doctors agreed a new surgery center was needed, but not one of that magnitude.
“I don’t want this to make the hospital poor so they don’t hire enough nurses, they don’t buy enough equipment that other departments need,” Nathan said.
Jim Stevens, a current hospital board member re-applying for his seat, agreed the price tag might be so high that it is making it difficult to garner the needed support in the medical community to raise money for it.
“That may fly or may not fly because the costs are running. If it does fly, it might have to be cut down considerably it looks like,” Stevens said. “We don’t want to get in over our heads.”
Dr. Dick Steele, a surgeon who hopes to be re-appointed to the hospital board, backed the surgery center.
“This surgery center is going to be huge. It is going to be magnificent. It is going to be beautiful,” Steele said.
Nathan had a different take.
“The hospital is not there to become bigger and more grand. It is there to take care of patients,” Nathan said during his interview.