Our hospital — and our money — at risk
The entrance to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.

Our hospital — and our money — at risk

Brattleboro Memorial Hospital’s CEO and board chair must take responsibility for a huge financial error

GUILFORD — When a small community hospital makes a $1.655 million mistake, there needs to be some degree of accountability to the public to let them know what happened and how it happened.

Brattleboro Memorial Hospital paid that amount in civil claims because it “knowingly presented false claims for payment to Medicare and Medicaid,” according to a Feb. 27 news story in the Brattleboro Reformer.

It appears that the problem resulted from errors in coding and that the money in question was for lab work that was ordered but was not properly coded according to law. There was an intensive investigation by federal and state officials to determine the nature of the alleged violation that occurred from January 2012 through September 2014.

The hospital says it has taken corrective action, but it looks like this situation may not have come to light without a whistleblower, Amy Beth Main, who filed a complaint against the hospital because, as an employee, she uncovered what was going on.

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The story about this incident shed little light on what really happened. This is our community hospital, and this is our money that was put at risk. We need to know who knew what was going on and when they knew it.

Gina Pattison is the hospital's public relations front person. Her comments do not shed enough light on what happened. That is not her fault.

Why have we not heard from the hospital CEO Steve Gordon or the hospital board chair Patty O'Donnell? Ultimately, they are responsible for what happens at our hospital. Yet they have been much too silent on this issue.

Gordon and O'Donnell are smart people and it seems likely that they knew something was amiss during the time of the alleged violation, especially since an employee was trying to tell them something was not right.

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We also need to question the leadership of an institution that makes such an enormous mistake. The buck stops with Gordon, and he must take responsibility for what happened. We need to be able to meet the CEO face to face and ask him some hard questions.

He owes it to the public to tell us exactly what happened and how he will make up for this very large financial shortfall.

Will this “mistake” put our community hospital into financial jeopardy? What kind of climate exists at a hospital that dismisses claims of major errors from employees and then makes their life difficult because they are trying to do the right thing?

O'Donnell is no stranger to being less than transparent in her dealings. When she was a legislator, she failed to tell her colleagues that she had a potential conflict of interest when voting on issues relating to Vermont Yankee. According to my sources, many legislators felt a sense of betrayal when they learned of O'Donnell's connections to the nuclear power plant.

It is difficult to understand how such a prestigious institution as Brattleboro Memorial Hospital could allow O'Donnell to hold a position of power after she displayed disrespect for local law enforcement. According to a 2014 Reformer story she called a law enforcement officer a “pissant” when he was trying to do his job against her personal objections.

This is the same hospital that many of my nurse friends tell me is having a hard time recruiting nurses. They tell me that they do not feel valued and that morale among nursing staff is very low. The hospital is using a number of traveling nurses at an expense far above that of local nurses, and that only compounds financial and morale issues.

There is a lot that the leaders of our community hospital should be telling us. I hope they will soon set up a community forum, where they can tell us how they are moving ahead and how they will find a way to create a better climate of good will within their institution.

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