To the Editor:
It is encouraging to see engagement of a wide range of people in shaping the future of the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. Frederick Rundlet’s letter to the editor (July 20, “Strategic plan needed for hospital”) took a big-picture approach, advocating a “strategic plan” with input from Island institutions, residents, and visitors. Such initiatives should be welcomed and actively supported.
However, there are reasons why Joe Woodin’s termination is and will remain relevant, and why “moving on” and “looking to the future” too quickly would be a grave mistake. The deplorable manner in which the termination was handled is a separate matter, essentially a distraction, and we should leave it to the lawyers — that’s what lawyers are for.
The real question that has to remain on the table is why he was terminated. It cannot have been on a whim or based on personal animosity. The entire board followed suit. What was the confluence of events, pressures, or likely consequences of inaction that made the board feel it had no other option than to back this dramatic and precipitous course of action?
So far, we, the people of Martha’s Vineyard, have been given two reasons: In an op-ed on June 8, Timothy Sweet, chairman of the hospital board of trustees, described the “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.” In other words, there were plenty of people who felt offended and threatened by his leadership style, and disagreed with the direction he had initiated for the hospital. A board statement followed on June 24 to explain that “the board was concerned about ensuring stability, and avoiding the loss of individuals who are essential to the operations of the hospital and the delivery of care to our patients.” In other words, certain key individuals, both in hospital administration and on the clinical side, were at risk of either termination or leaving in protest, or both.
Actually, vague as they are, these two statements paint a reasonably clear picture, albeit in rough outline only, and it is not a good one.
The first reason points to a board that is out of touch with the needs and desires of the community. It was precisely Woodin’s “ideas and leadership style” that had Islanders excited about his plans for our hospital. He represented the hope of change in the hospital’s relations with the community, and showed determination to advocate for the interests of the Island. Furthermore, as some have pointed out, Woodin did not make a secret of his vision and leadership style. It was more than evident in his past history in Vermont, and this board hired him on the basis of that history, picking him above other possibly qualified candidates. Good for them, and we applauded their choice.
If the second reason is what tipped the balance, then clearly we have a board that is unable to stand up to invisible and unaccountable pressures. This is a very disturbing prospect. It undermines our ability to trust the underlying motives behind directions taken and in whose interests decisions are made. If the board cannot even stand up to nameless essential individuals within the hospital, what hope do they have of defending the interests of our hospital in the challenging rapids of today’s healthcare environment?
We need sunlight on these issues, not a raft of conciliatory gestures. We need a change in the leadership of the board, in the membership of the board, in the culture of the hospital, and in the orientation of healthcare to serve the entire community, one patient at a time.