LANCASTER – The Antelope Valley Hospital Board of Directors held a special meeting late Wednesday afternoon but hardly clarified its actions to the public on departing CEO Dennis Knox or its consideration of a new management company that would supposedly change the leadership style of the hospital.
After coming out of closed session at about 6:30 p.m., the board was met with a crowd of employees and members of the public waiting to attend the open session. And although the Community Resource Center’s auditorium at the other end of the campus was being prepared for an overflow of people, the board refused to move the meeting from the board room, which had a limited capacity for about 25 people.
Instead, hospital security allowed only about 20 people to attend the public meeting in the room, forcing a growing crowd of 40-plus people to cluster in the hall.
Though most of the public waited with patience to see how the board would handle the situation, some in the hallway grew agitated, shouting that the hospital was violating open meeting laws as regulated by the Ralph M. Brown Act.
A security guard shuttled back and forth from the meeting to the outside hall, calling out speakers’ names on public comment cards and asking them if they would like to enter the room to address the board of directors. However, many of the people whose names were called refused to enter the room. One speaker said, “This is supposed to be a public forum, but nobody outside the room will be able to hear what we say to the board!”
At nearly 7:30 p.m., the board decided to adjourn the meeting to the hospital’s cafeteria, where enough seats could be prepared for the increasing overflow of people.
Once the public session of the special meeting reconvened in the cafeteria, the board reported its voting count for the few actions they took during closed session, which included a 3-2 approval for CEO Dennis Knox’s resignation, a 3-2 approval for CEO Knox’s severance pay, and a 5-0 approval for the appointment of COO Jack Burke as Interim CEO. No other details were provided to the public on those actions.
Opening up the meeting to public comment, the board was questioned about its action on a new business item discussing a “new CEO/ management company” for the hospital. The board members were asked why the hospital would need such a management team, and was there an evaluation process performed that led the board to this conclusion?
Perhaps misunderstanding the question, Dr. Doddanna Krishna, chairman of the board of directors for AVHD, offered some insight into CEO Dennis Knox’s resignation.
“It was a negotiated settlement with the board and CEO Dennis Knox,” Dr. Krishna said. “And yes, an evaluation was done, and the decision was to give the CEO an opportunity to resign.”
When members of the public directed Dr. Krishna’s attention back to the “management company” question, he said there was no answer to that question because the board took no action on that item.
Jean Marie Harris, who works for the National Alliance of Mental Illness, continued the concern expressed regarding the hiring of a management company and “dropping” the executive management of the hospital.
“That would not be appropriate in the community’s eyes of the people I have talked to,” Harris told the board. “We would have a lot of personal concerns, and we hope that the future board meetings on this would be discussed in a public forum so that community members can express their desires to have a CEO or a management company to the board.”
At his turn to speak, AV Hospital employee Ed Sileo told the board that he was troubled with the transparency of its actions, saying the best thing for the hospital and its community would be to put an end to the rumors.
“We heard in the last several days that Dennis Knox resigned or that he was fired,” Sileo said. “We heard that the board did not want to talk about why he left. The reality is that Dennis was a public employee of a public agency … and the only way he could go is if he resigned, was fired with cause, or fired without cause. You mentioned tonight that there was an approved severance package. Well, the public has the right to know about a public employee at a public institution and why he was let go. Was it voluntary? Then under what circumstances? And what was the severance package?”
Jody Knox, CEO at Kindred Hospital Rancho and wife to Dennis Knox, told the board her current concern was how they intended to properly manage the future of its community of employees.
“May I suggest that not only you become transparent in everything you do going forward, but that you also look at these people in the eye and tell them that you are going to assist them to manage their future appropriately, especially when it comes to their pension funds,” Jody Knox said.
Bobbie Strause, a Clinical Informatics RN, said she was disturbed that there is talk about hiring a management firm in the wake of Dennis Knox’s resignation.
“I think just because we don’t like somebody’s management style, if they’re showing that they’re doing what they’re here to do, which is to put our hospital together, to improve it overall … than this is what we’re reaching for,” Strause said. “I am very disappointed to see that Dennis is no longer with us. And if there was a way to reconsider that, I am all for that.”
Dr. Krishna responded to the enthusiasm in the room for Dennis Knox, saying, “Nobody in this room will force me to say that I didn’t care about Dennis Knox. I have high regards for him, and we might have had differences of opinion, but the board collectively decided what was best for this community.”
The board then told the nearly 70 people in attendance that the public would be notified when its next meeting would be held and the items that would be discussed.
According to the AVHD Board of Directors, Dennis Knox tendered his resignation citing “personal reasons” effective July 9. Knox was appointed CEO in December 2013 to replace Edward Mirzabegian, who resigned.
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