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Our Opinion: Directing Pioneers

August 31, 2001

The Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District board recently voted 3-2 to retain Richard Mendoza as the chief executive officer of the Brawley hospital.

Mendoza seems to be a capable leader, but we must raise some question about the direction in which the board is leading the hospital.

Actually, the most important question is does the board have a direction? It does not seem to, based on its most recent actions. If anything, the board seems to be in turmoil, basically split down the middle on how best to lead the hospital.

Certainly the board has indicated it is split in its support of Mendoza and it is unquestionably split in its support for Brim Healthcare, the Portland, Ore., management firm with whom Mendoza is employed.

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A quick recount as to what led to the vote to keep Mendoza follows. The board voted in April to end its management contract with Brim. It was a split vote, 3-2, with Katy Santillan, Daniel Paramo and board President Marcus Tapia voting to end the contract. Santillan, the strongest Brim detractor, wanted to see the hospital board run the hospital without a management firm. Paramo and Tapia agreed. Board members Leo Haggarty and Aleta Shropshire dissented.

The vote to end the contract meant Mendoza and Chief Financial Officer Daniel Heckathorne, both Brim employees, would lose their positions with the hospital. Some board members said they wanted to keep both, some said they wanted to keep Mendoza alone, and some said they wanted a complete break and a fresh start.

That leads us up to the most recent vote where the board reached a modified agreement with Brim that will allow the hospital to keep Mendoza while he will remain a Brim employee. That still raises questions as to whether the board will continue to work with Brim. We are not sure that question has been answered or if the board even knows the answer.

The only thing that seems certain in the hospital's future is that Heckathorne will no longer be the CFO. Heckathorne has a long history with the hospital, we never heard any questions about his competency and we know he cared about the hospital's future, so his departure is a loss.

We are pleased Mendoza likely will stay on at Pioneers. Maybe he can provide some stability, but that will not be easy. We are concerned his hands will be tied to some degree by a divided board.

We can only hope the board can figure out the direction it wants to go and then lead the hospital in a more united way. Board members don't always have to agree, but when it comes to such a critical issue as the hospital's management, there should be some sense of unity. Otherwise morale at the hospital and ultimately the quality of care could suffer.

It is up to the board, together with Mendoza, to make it the first priority that such a situation does not happen.

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