San Juan Island Public Hospital District 1 commissioners are playing a round of musical chairs.
At the Jan. 24 meeting, the chairman of the San Juan Island Public Hospital District 1 resigned, the San Juan Island Emergency Medical Services chief rescinded his resignation, and, the next morning, Hospital District Commissioner Monica Harrington also quit.
These decisions came roughly two weeks after commissioners appointed Richard Frazer as interim EMS chief after current EMS Chief Jerry Martin announced his resignation last October. Frazer’s designation was opposed by four EMS staff members at the last meeting on Jan. 8 and one who wrote a letter to the Journal’s editor.
The public hospital district oversees EMS.
Public Hospital District Chairman Bill Williams gave his resignation to Pam Hutchins, the district’s superintendent, the morning before the board’s regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 24. He did not give a reason for his departure but said it was effective immediately. Williams has been chairman since he was voted into the district in 2015 and has served about two years of his six-year term.
At the Jan. 24 meeting, Hutchins also revoked her resignation, which she said she recently gave to the board because she hadn’t enjoyed most of her duties for the last year and a half. However, now that there were so many changes on the board, she’d like to continue with her job.
Since Commissioner Michael Edwards has the most seniority on the board, he was designated to serve as chairman of the meeting. He and Commissioners Mark Schwinge and Anna Lisa Lindstrum unanimously voted Edwards to be the chairman for the rest of the year.
Edwards is staying on the board, though he didn’t run for re-election last November. A legal precedent allowed him to remain a commissioner after the winner of his seat did not accept the position.
At the Jan. 24 meeting, Williams was not present, and, though Harrington called in, she hung up due to a family emergency about 15 minutes into the public session. In a press release to the Journal, Harrington explained that she resigned on Jan. 25 and has recently moved off island for a new job. Harrington was also voted into office in 2015 and has served about two years of her six-year term.
The board is now accepting letters of interest for the two vacant commissioners’ seats.
Lindstrum was the only present commissioner at the Jan. 24 meeting who voted to appoint Frazer. She declined to sign his contract to make the agreement valid since Chief Martin offered to stay with EMS until the department potentially joins San Juan Island Fire and Rescue.
No official decision on the merger of the two emergency departments has been made.
Previously, Harrington said she voted for Frazer to be EMS chief, over a long-time local paramedic who also applied, because Frazer has more experience handling finances. Harrington said that in previous years, EMS staff did not properly manage the department’s accounts receivable to ensure that what is on the books was actually collectible. This made the finances look better than they are and was “bad financial management,” she said.
At the Jan. 24 meeting, Martin disagreed.
“We’ve been attacked for having a budget that is unsustainable, but I believe this budget is sustainable,” he said.
The board also unanimously agreed that Martin’s idea to give EMS’s Administrative Assistant Tina Lynch-Teilmann a raise is a good idea. Martin also noted he would like to increase paid time off, for both her and EMS Director of Operations Karl Kuetzing.
When asked by Lindstrum if there was enough money in the budget for the raise, Martin noted he had not taken a pay increase in two years.
“Tina is such a valuable employee to the department, we will find the money,” he said.
When Frazer was appointed at the last hospital district meeting, on Jan. 8, four EMS staff members complained that the hiring procedure did not follow department guidelines and was not transparent. The position was not publicly posted, according to the Martin, and there was no public comment section at the meeting to appoint his replacement.
Williams said the open position was marketed by word-of-mouth. At the Jan. 8 meeting, Frazer also noted that he is friends with Williams.
Fire and EMS merger
The board voted to plan a public meeting with San Juan Island Fire and Rescue to discuss merging the two departments.
Schwinge said that for 18 months a team has been working on looking into the merger and writing a report to explain their findings.
The document also examines whether a merger of the fire districts on San Juan, Orcas and Lopez would be beneficial. San Juan Island’s EMS and fire districts would need to join before all of the island’s fire districts could merge, said Schwinge.
At the Jan. 24 meeting, the board decided to have the researchers of this report form a citizen’s advisory group to help oversee the alignment of San Juan Island EMS and the fire department. The board often refers to the group as “the white paper committee.”
The members of that group are Public Hospital District Commissioners Edwards and Schwinge, EMS Chief Martin, San Juan Island Fire Commissioner Bob Jarman, Orcas Fire Chief Scott Williams, retired Lopez Island Fire Chief Jim Ghiglione, and San Juan Island EMS EMT Francis Smith.
Schwinge said that the report may not be published now that the merger may occur sooner than expected.
At the Jan. 24 meeting, Dick Grout of San Juan Island questioned why the meetings with the white paper researchers were not made public. Edwards explained that they were preliminary meetings to discuss the feasibility of the merger, but after the group’s Jan. 25 session, meetings on the two departments’ merger will be made public.
For documents from the Jan. 24 public hospital district meeting, visit sjcphd.org.