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Search for CEO should restart

Three Rivers needs to heed red flags at Coulee Medical Center

The firestorm at Coulee Medical Center should’ve sent red-flag warnings to hospital officials in Brewster.

Hospital employees — including medical staff — and elected commissioners want Administrator J. Scott Graham’s contract terminated.

Despite the problems facing the embattled Graham at his current hospital, Three Rivers Hospital commissioners have tossed him a lifeline by naming him as their top candidate.

Are they buying a “pig in a poke?”

The issues at Coulee Medical Center mirror many of the problems existing at Three Rivers Hospital.

In Brewster, Three Rivers medical staff voted no confidence in current administrator, O.E. “Bud” Hufnagel. At Coulee Medical Center, the staff voted no confidence in Graham.

In Brewster, Hufnagel chose to resign. In Grand Coulee, Graham is on the verge of being fired and the nursing staff is ready to vote to become unionized.

The two hospitals are struggling financially to stay alive in our rural economy. Both Hufnagel and Graham have attempted similar tactics to stay solvent. Neither have seemed to work.

It makes sense Three Rivers Hospital commissioners would want to hire someone familiar with the area, the economy and the people. But it doesn’t make sense to offer a job to the candidate who would have to work with many of the same people, patients, professionals and families that want him out of the area.

The decision to select Graham as the top candidate was the apex of a flawed hiring process, and it smacks of a potential backroom deal between the outgoing CEO and the top candidate.

Hufnagel personally notified Graham about the job opportunity. Hufnagel was personally involved in selecting semifinalists and finalists for the job. Hufnagel is a paid health care consultant with a Seattle-based firm. Three Rivers turned a blind eye to the issue.

Throw in a process that violated the state’s Open Public Meetings Act and the refusal by Three Rivers officials to identify the applicants until only two were left and you have a shadow the next hospital administrator will live under for years to come.

To clear the air, we encourage Three Rivers commissioners to start the process over. The board should hire an outside professional consultant to find qualified candidates, perform professional background checks and open the process up for public scrutiny.

In the meantime, Three Rivers has at least one qualified administrator to lead the hospital while the search process is conducted in a professional open manner. Or it could contract temporarily with a health care management firm to oversee the hospital for a short stint.

Continuing down the current error-filled path serves nobody — not the medical staff, the patients or the community.

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