A question of credibility


Where to begin with the reckless, botched firing of Joe Woodin, CEO and president of Martha’s Vineyard Hospital?

Whether it’s a warranted firing or not is hard to say, in the he said/he said that’s followed, but there’s no question that the way the termination was handled and, ultimately, bungled, is a public relations nightmare.

Timothy Sweet, chairman of the hospital’s board of trustees, attempted to get Mr. Woodin to sign a letter of resignation and ride away, into the sunset, on the next boat out of Vineyard Haven.

The idea that Mr. Sweet had the approval of the board of trustees before going and asking Mr. Woodin for his resignation stretches credibility. We know of at least two board members, in addition to Mr. Woodin, who had no inkling he was getting the axe.

That’s a problem.

As Mr. Sweet told The Times, he doesn’t have the authority, nor should he, to make unilateral decisions.

Fast-forward to Wednesday, June 7. If the board was so upset with Mr. Woodin’s performance, why did it take several hours for them to vote to officially fire him? You would think if things were so bad and Mr. Woodin needed to go, it would have taken a few minutes instead of a few hours.

The more likely scenario is that a reluctant board was talking about how to do damage control after Mr. Sweet and his wife, Rachel Vanderhoop, the hospital’s development director and a direct report to the CEO, sent out a hasty and misleading press release on the morning of June 5, knowing that Mr. Woodin was not leaving quietly. It was an obvious attempt to try and push Mr. Woodin into a decision, but it was a horrendous miscalculation.

“Stepping down” is to “firing” as “fender bender” is to “head-on collision.” That is to say, it’s not the same at all, and it was disingenuous for Mr. Sweet and Ms. Vanderhoop to put that release out thinking that the press would just run with it and all of this would quietly disappear.

The end result is a dramatic erosion in the credibility of the board of trustees, Ms. Vanderhoop, and, ultimately, the hospital.

In the days since the firing, we’ve heard some rumblings about changes made by Mr. Woodin that ruffled feathers. We’re not quite sure what the board expected. New bosses have to be allowed to set expectations for employees, and given a certain amount of latitude to make decisions that aren’t necessarily popular and may cause friction.

We’ve also heard plenty of praise for Mr. Woodin — from doctors, nurses, patients, and other leaders in the community, like Julie Fay, who worked with Mr. Woodin on moving ahead with important initiatives concerning treatment for drug and alcohol abuse.

The most ridiculous part of all this is that Mr. Woodin was led to believe that everything was rosy. He took his time settling in, but in January, feeling comfortable that the feeling-out period had passed, he slapped down money on a nearly $1.2 million house on the Island, making a strong commitment to his adopted community.

Then, less than five months later and a little over a year into the job, it all went south in a hurry.

Mr. Sweet and Edward Miller, the board’s vice chairman, tell us there was no malfeasance and nothing untoward on the part of Mr. Woodin that led to his firing. Instead, it was a collection of issues that built up over time. It became clear to the board, they say, that Mr. Woodin no longer shared the same vision for the hospital.

So why the rush to get him out? And where’s the evidence that the board worked with Mr. Woodin to set a shared vision and path for the hospital’s future?

And just what is this vision that the board has for Martha’s Vineyard Hospital? The public is demanding answers, and if the board is to gain back any of its eroded trust, it needs to start filling the void with credible answers.