At one time, the Monroe Community Hospital board was an active group that played a vital role for the facility. Its members advised staff on operations, advocated for the hospital, and helped raise money.
"The advisory board was a wonderful board that acted as a cheerleader for MCH," says Fran Weisberg, executive director of the Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency. Weisberg served on the board in the late 1970's and early 1980's, where she headed a federal program that placed volunteer patient advocates in nursing homes.
But at some point in the early 2000's, the board went dormant. It remained inactive until recently, following a state Department of Health report that accused then-hospital director Todd Spring of mistreating a patient (Spring has since been fired by County Executive Maggie Brooks). In response to the report, the Monroe County Legislature reactivated the board by approving a full list of appointments.
The board's status has been an issue for years, however. Legislature Democrats have pushed to reinstate the board since at least 2007, questioning why and when it stopped meeting. They've also asked who, if anyone, has been fulfilling the board's not-insubstantial advisory duties. Democratic Legislator Justin Wilcox says if the board had been active in recent years, the incident involving Spring might have been avoided.
Why and when the board lapsed is unclear. County officials haven't publicly addressed those questions and may not be willing or able to — several messages left for the county's spokesperson were not returned. And Legislature Republicans rebuffed calls from Democrats to look into the lapse.
During the May 14 Legislature meeting, which is when legislators appointed the new board, Wilcox asked the body's Republican president, Jeff Adair, why he didn't reactivate the board sooner.
"I believe now is a timely time to do it, and I'm not going to dwell," Adair said.
Brooks briefly addressed the hospital situation in her State of the County address last week. She said that the state report showed that the hospital "failed to live up to its tradition of excellence and our mission of putting residents first as the result of one incident."
She said the hospital is committed to serving people who may not have anywhere else to go, and she mentioned that two of her grandparents received care at Monroe Community Hospital.
"We have re-trained our staff on new resident care policies," she said. "We've empowered a new board of community advocates. And I personally will be overseeing the implementation of the state-approved corrective plan in the months ahead."
The state-approved plan included re-establishing the hospital board.
The board is supposed to advise the hospital and county administration on staffing, patient care, hospital renovations, hospital policies and regulations, and contracts. And under county law, board members are supposed to have access to all hospital facilities and records. The board is also supposed to make an annual report to the Legislature.
"Those charges are quite substantial," Wilcox says.
Whether an active advisory board would have prevented the incident described in the state report is tough, if not impossible, to say. Weisberg, who's serving as the FLHSA's representative on the reconstituted board, says the new board will, at minimum, provide additional oversight of the hospital.
Lynda Garner Goldstein, a former county legislator who served on the board, agrees.
Garner Goldstein says she left the board in 2001 and doesn't know when the body stopped meeting. But her experience offers insight into the role the board has historically played.
The board met monthly — county law currently requires it to meet bimonthly — at the dinner hour, and members were served hospital food, she says. Members were briefed on hospital programs, who the hospital was serving, hospital renovations and plans, and contracts between the hospital and the University of Rochester Medical Center. (The URMC provides most of the medical services at the hospital, says medical center spokesperson Teri D'Agostino. Monroe Community Hospital is also a teaching site for the university's medical and nursing students, she says.)
Carol Pennington, a former board member who has also been appointed to the new board, says she believes the body's been dormant for about 13 years. She says she's excited to serve again.
"I know it's a good hospital," she says. "It's a good, caring hospital. My husband was there and received excellent care."
When the new board first meets, members will probably discuss what role the body should play, Weisberg says. And she has some thoughts on what she'd like the board to do.
Like other former board members, Weisberg remembers receiving reports from the hospital administration and updates from the residents council. She says she'd like to see those practices adopted by the new board. She says she'd also like to receive updates on how the hospital is meeting the needs of patients and residents.
After receiving the state's report, County Executive Brooks hired attorney Anna Lynch to conduct an independent review of the hospital. Weisberg says the board should be briefed on Lynch's findings.
She also says the board could conduct staff and patient surveys as a means to identify unaddressed issues.
The board's new members are knowledgeable in long-term care, aging, and health care, Weisberg says, and that will be good for the hospital.
"You want to use this board as a resource and a guide and as a cheerleader for an amazing institution," she says.