Part-time boards managing full-time CEOs. It’s a very, very difficult and thankless task, if one commits to do the job well. And a real coin-toss if one chooses to serve on a board for the sake of it. Maybe you’ve got a really good CEO and you can simply coast. More likely, you have a flawed CEO (some good traits, some bad traits) and you’ve really got to pay attention to make sure Mr. Hyde doesn’t consume Dr. Jekyll.
I applaud the NIHD Board and staff for digging in when it needed to in investigating former CEO Dr. Kevin Flanigan. Because if they’d dallied and then Covid hit and Flanigan was still CEO – the District easily could’ve plunged into bankruptcy. That’s where Flanigan had ‘em steered. Finance was not his strong suit. The Board identified that it needed to change horses just in time.
My theory, and it’s just a theory, is that it was body count that did Flanigan in. He became increasingly aggressive in his desire to frame the District exactly how he wanted it – eliminating those who challenged him or competed with him for his leading role.
I personally think it galled Flanigan that Dr. Allison Robinson’s contract paid her $350,000/year while he only made $325,000. I honestly think he went after her, sought to reduce her salary, so that he, the king, the CEO, would be the highest paid District honcho, as opposed to some star doctor.
Reminds me of the recent “Last Dance,” the 10-part documentary that recently aired on ESPN about Michael Jordan. There’s a talked-about clip where Bulls GM Jerry Krause insists that organizations win championships, not players, suggesting that superstars like Jordan can come and go, but it’s masterminds like Krause who truly should be celebrated.
Hmm. Let’s see if we can invoke other examples to determine a trend. How have the Cleveland Cavaliers fared without LeBron James? How have the San Antonio Spurs fared without Tim Duncan? The list is endless.
I’m not the only pop psychologist who’s analyzed the Flanigan question. One of the more interesting takes on Flanigan comes from Pharmacist Frank Laiacona.
“Flanigan is very different type of leader. Not underhanded. But … I believe the District somehow has become confused and lost its traction, more concerned with position and power than the business at hand under his stewardship.
I must assume that he sacrificed his potential rapport with professional, managerial and director staff to grasp and hold tight multi-chief positions as well as being the District CEO. How can anyone be three in one except … God!
The District needs and deserves full-time professional leadership rather than part-time lip service and a flattering good show at Board meetings.”
The Sheet has obtained hundreds of documents (like the snippet from Laiacona’s letter above) via public records requests over the past several weeks to try to parse what’s been happening at Northern Inyo Hospital.
What was the mood inside the organization? Could clues be ascertained as to why CEO Dr. Kevin Flanigan was dismissed? Who was in Flanigan’s corner? Who wasn’t and why.
Some of the comments are remarkably candid, in part because communication from staff to the District’s Board is not privileged, and oftentimes folks forget that such communication is not privileged.
When Dr. Stuart Souders was notified that his emails to Board members had to be publicly released, he was not pleased. “I did not write these emails to be given to the newspapers and thrown out to the public. I could just as easily written the newspapers myself if that were my intent. The letters were for internal information only … and were intended to be private. I do not believe airing dirty laundry in public is appropriate. I think it could be detrimental to the reputation of the hospital. Furthermore, your decision to release these letters … will have a chilling effect on any other physician/employee from providing the Board members information.”
*While Lunch loves rolling around in dirty laundry as much as the next journalist, that is not the driving purpose of this story.
It did seem that parting with Robinson may have been a catalyst of sorts. Without Robinson, the massive investment in the Da Vinci surgical robot would stand out like a white elephant. And Robinson was the hometown kid made good.
Even Jerry Krause didn’t trade Michael Jordan.
First, the pro-side. This group was mostly concentrated amongst physicians who worked out of the RHC (Rural Health Clinic), as well as those in pediatrics and family health. Pediatrics is Flanigan’s background.
Jenni Figueroa: It was … extremely nice to have a fellow medical provider as our CEO who understood the oftentimes challenging aspects of patient care.
Alison Collin: There can hardly be a CEO on the planet that has not at some time ruffled feathers, trodden on toes, had to make unpopular decisions, or made some errors of judgement or mistakes.
Robbin Cromer-Tyler: It’s never easy to convince someone that they are entitled to less money no matter how much data you give them … I wish people could separate their emotional response from their professional response. I know that there are situations when individuals cannot work things out, but I have also found trying to has been Kevin’s approach until he could not give anymore.
Charlotte Helvie: Over time our working relationship has evolved into one of the most rewarding aspects of my career. Dr. Flanigan empowered me to believe that my experience and training are important to NIHD, to become a community leader, and a leader in our medical staff.
NIHD was named “Healthcare District of the Year” in 2019 by the Association of California Healthcare Districts (of which there are 79).
And there was clear evidence, once the coronavirus pandemic hit, that Flanigan’s allies hoped to use the crisis as a means of helping him reenter the District through the side door. Dr. Stacey Brown, for example, suggested that he could become Interim CMO (Chief Medical Officer), with Flanigan sliding into his position as Interim Director of the RHC. The rationale: We need all hands on deck given the uncertainty surrounding potential Covid impacts.
What seemed clear from reading correspondence of Flanigan’s supporters is that Flanigan really knew how to take care of his friends, and his friends probably extrapolated on that and figured that’s how he treated everyone. That his kindness and solicitude towards them was a reflection of his overall character.
And this wasn’t really the case. You were either Flanigan’s favorite or you were decidedly not.
As AFSCME Union Business Agent Jane McDonald observed, “Flanigan’s frequent, overly familiar referral to Administrators as “C Suite” underscored a feeling of two distinct and separate classes at the District – haves and have nots.”
And as Chief Steward of the Nurses Union Heleen Welvaart stated, “Good leaders are transparent, honest and inclusive. He [Flanigan] fundamentally lacks these important qualities. A divisive leader is always a red flag.”
Unsupportive of non-favorites
While practitioners like Dr. Charlotte Helvie appear to have thrived on Flanigan’s watch, those who were not his favorites tended to wither. As Hospitalist Joy Engblade said in her letter: “CEOs are busy people. We all know this. But I can’t tell you how many times I’d email him with questions or concerns or issues and get no response. Three emails later, still without a response, I found myself proceeding with what needed to be done in my opinion, to continue to serve patients. When I asked him for feedback, I got none. When I asked him for his advice about how I could further my career, I got no advice. I felt completely unsupported.
… I left a year ago because I did not want to learn bad habits about being a leader. I did not want to learn how to keep my head down and simply show up.”
*Upon Flanigan’s dismissal, The Sheet called Engblade at her new job in Kentucky for a reaction. There was more than reaction. There’s action. She plans to return to Northern Inyo Hospital. Her expected start date: August 1.
So what happened when Engblade left? Heleen Welvaart explains.
“He [Flanigan] frequently doesn’t tell the truth. He replaced Engblade with locums [temp docs]. And yet he told the Board that locums only cost a little bit more. It actually costs NIH 100% more!! And if you ask patient care staff … most will tell you that the quality of care under Engblade was much better.”
This transitions us into a section we’ll title …
One staffer (and I’m trying not to identify staffers who may not be high enough up on the food chain to properly defend themselves and probably don’t want the attention anyway) was asked to run reports from as far back as 2016 for a Medical Clinic for Dr. Flanigan and Robin Cassidy. She ran the reports, “not knowing that this was to deem the provider not worth what she was making. This made me feel extremely used and sad that I supplied this information.”
From Bryan Harper: I have witnessed the ITS staff struggle for two and a half years filing complaint after complaint only to watch it [sic] be buried by Dr. Kevin S. Flanigan with no resolution causing morale to be at an all-time low …
Another example of unethical leadership is the handling of our former HR chief (whom The Sheet will identify as Evelyn Campos-Diaz).
Letters had gone out to the board members about allegations between Dr. Kevin S. Flanigan and a subordinate. The subordinate and Flanigan had me pick up all the managers’ and directors’ laptops under the pretense that I was doing security patches. Why may you ask? It was believed that our HR Chief had written the letter and it was requested that I bring in all devices so as not to single the HR Chief out. I was then instructed to search on her desktop and laptop for any potential letters or information. I found nothing because I looked for nothing. I am no one’s private investigator nor did I believe this to be ethical.
Speaking of Campos-Diaz, once Flanigan figured out how to get rid of her, he then held her up [her being exiled] to other staff as a cautionary tale.
Says one staffer, “On multiple occasions, Dr. Flanigan would refer to Kevin Dale and Evelyn Campos-Diaz as prime examples of what happens to people ‘if they don’t get the job done.’”
Board member Mary Mae Kilpatrick acknowledged that one area where Flanigan may have overstepped his bounds is in exceeding his spending authority.
Any expenditure of more than $40,000 requires Board approval, and yet Flanigan apparently exceeded that limit in his funneling of money to Pioneer Home Health.
The first “loan” of $75,000 was made to PHH in 2017. The Sheet could find no record of this transaction in the Board minutes.
Nor could The Sheet find obvious record of subsequent payments.
Kilpatrick said, “When we took them under our umbrella in 2018, we knew it would take about five years to get them back on their feet.”
The Sheet has made a follow-up request to determine just how much money has been quietly funnelled to PHH over the past three years to keep it solvent.
In February, the following appeared in our story which reported that Kevin Flanigan had been placed on administrative leave:
“Further, one member of the I.T. department claimed that Dr. Flanigan made misrepresentations to the NIH Board in order to convince the Board to change medical records providers.
This same employee added, ‘The I.T. Director [Robin Cassidy] doesn’t know anything about I.T. She has no experience. No one’s ever figured out how she got her job.”
Ms. Cassidy objected to the characterization – a characterization made anonymously by a staffer.
Cassidy was named Northern Inyo’s I.T. Manager. in 2000, and assumed the position again in 2012.
In 2006, Ms. Cassidy was employed as AEMR (Ambulatory Electronic Medical Record) Application Analyst by the John Muir Physician Network in Walnut Creek, California, a position she held for four years. She was one of the primary team members that defined work flows and developed the Cerner EMR for 24 primary care outpatient practices.
In 2010, Ms. Cassidy was promoted to Business Operations Manager at the John Muir Physician Network. Her duties included managing the daily operations of thirteen primary care practices.
She returned to the Eastern Sierra in 2012, where she was offered a position as I.T. Director at both Northern Inyo Hospital and Mammoth Hospital.
The point being, she may not have been popular, and the staff may have questioned her decision-making, but she certainly had the resume to qualify herself for the position.
There’s still more in the vault. Stay tuned.