Hospital board defends decision to fire CEO

Trustees had first offered resignation, but Mr. Woodin refused.

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In this photo taken May 24, Martha's Vineyard Hospital CEO Joe Woodin, right, shakes hands with Julie Fay, executive director of the Island’s Community Services program, outside the "red house" on the hospital campus. Community Services is leasing the building for crisis beds for patients with substance use disorder and mental health issues. —Stacey Rupolo

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The board of trustees at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital officially terminated Joe Woodin, the hospital’s president and CEO, at a meeting Wednesday morning.

Woodin had served a little more than a year in the hospital’s top job.

“This difficult decision reflects what trustees have seen as a widening difference between the vision of the board and the ideas and leadership style of the hospital’s top executive regarding the right direction and path for the hospital,” Tim Sweet, the board’s chairman, wrote in an op-ed submitted to The Times.

Mr. Woodin could not be reached Wednesday, but told The Times in separate interviews Monday and Tuesday that he had no inkling the board had issues with his management of the hospital. To the contrary, he said, he received positive feedback and felt secure enough to purchase a home on the Island.

“I loved my job here. I’m shocked and stunned,” he said. “I love this place. I love the staff. I love what we do. It’s a great hospital and a great community.”

During an interview with the Times Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Sweet and Edward Miller, the board’s vice chairman, each said they were shocked by Mr. Woodin’s reaction. They said confidentiality made it difficult for them to talk about specific reasons behind Mr. Woodin’s ouster. The board vote was 13-1, Mr. Sweet said.

“I need to make this very clear. This is not for cause. There is no malfeasance. There is nothing that involves Joe’s character,” Mr. Sweet said. “There is nothing horrible behind the curtain.”

In the previously mentioned op-ed to The Times, Mr. Sweet said the change has to do with a difference of vision for the hospital.

The Times learned before Wednesday’s meeting that at least two board members, in addition to Mr. Woodin, had no idea he was being dismissed prior to Monday, but Mr. Miller denied that, saying all board members with the exception of one, and of Mr. Woodin, who served on the board, were told in advance. Mr. Sweet said he doesn’t have the authority to act alone.

Mr. Woodin told The Times he was approached by Mr. Sweet and asked to sign a letter of resignation, and refused.

A short time later, Rachel Vanderhoop, the hospital’s development director, and Mr. Sweet’s wife, sent out a press release that said Mr. Woodin was “stepping down,” and left the impression he was leaving on his own. The release also included some accomplishments during Mr. Woodin’s brief tenure.

Reached Wednesday, Ms. Vanderhoop referred questions about the misleading press release to Mr. Sweet. “That’s an odd way to ask the question saying it was misleading,” she said. “You’ll have to talk to Mr. Sweet.”

A short time later an email arrived from Mr. Sweet announcing the board’s vote, offering “respect and admiration” for Mr. Woodin, and reiterating that former CEO Tim Walsh had agreed to come out of retirement as the interim boss, effective Wednesday.

Mr. Sweet and Mr. Miller denied there was any attempt to mislead. The idea was to give Mr. Woodin an opportunity for “a graceful exit,” Mr. Sweet said.

Mr. Woodin was given until the end of the day Monday to contemplate the offer to resign, but chose to tell co-workers and speak to the press, Mr. Miller said. “This reaction is a total shock,” Mr. Sweet said.

Wednesday’s vote is the latest development in a saga that’s created three days of buzz on the Island, particularly on social media. Many people were reluctant to talk about the firing on the record, so there’s plenty of speculation on what led to the abrupt departure, but nothing official. You won’t find that in Mr. Sweet’s letter, either.

“We recognize that the news about the leadership change may be concerning, unsettling, or even disappointing to members of our hospital family and people throughout the community who have witnessed so many positive changes at this hospital,” Mr. Sweet wrote.

Asked on Monday what Mr. Sweet gave for a reason for his firing, Mr. Woodin said, “I was not given a reason. I probed. I asked repeatedly.”

Asked about public speculation that Mr. Woodin had a conflict with Ms. Vanderhoop that resulted in his dismissal, Mr. Sweet said, “Absolutely not.”

Both Mr. Sweet and Mr. Miller said there was no one thing that led to the change in leadership.

“It’s an accumulation of issues,” Mr. Sweet said, noting the culture and management of the hospital. “These are the types of tough decisions boards need to make.”

All indications were that things were going well from Mr. Woodin’s perspective. In January, he purchased a $1.175 million home, not far from the hospital in Oak Bluffs.

“I’ve not been reprimanded,” he said, noting that whenever there is a new management style, there is bound to be friction. “I have high standards that we do the best for our patients here,” Mr. Woodin said. None of the issues that came up were “grave” ones, he said.

Mr. Woodin’s last day was Monday.

Mr. Woodin came to the Island last spring from Gifford Hospital in Randolph, Vt., where he had served as CEO since 2000.

The announcement comes just a couple of weeks after the hospital announced an agreement with Martha’s Vineyard Community Services to lease the so-called red house for Islanders suffering from substance use and mental health issues. Mr. Woodin had also collaborated with Community Services and off-Island detox centers to provide substance-abuse rehabilitation for Islanders.

Julie Fay, executive director of the Island’s Community Services program, said she worked well with Mr. Woodin. “I think everyone is pretty surprised,” she said. “Community Services and the hospital were working well together.”

According to the hospital press release, the search for Mr. Woodin’s replacement will begin immediately, and in the interim, the hospital will call on former boss Mr. Walsh. “We are very fortunate and thankful that Tim has graciously agreed to take a sabbatical from his well-earned retirement to provide a steady and trusted hand during this time of transition,” Mr. Sweet said in the release.

The search for a permanent CEO is expected to take three to six months.
Mr. Sweet also thanked Mr. Woodin for “his dedication and hard work,” according to the release.

The way things went down damaged the reputation of the hospital and people who work there, Mr. Sweet said during Wednesday’s interview. There is trust to rebuild and there are lessons to be learned, he said.

“A vast majority believe this is the right way to go,” he said. “I’m incredibly sorry that it went so bad, so quickly.”

Story updated to reflect interviews with Mr. Sweet and Mr. Miller.