For almost two hours, there were fiery comments aired during a special public meeting covering the Fallon Medical Complex and how it is operating in Fallon County.
While some members of the audience shouted claims of abuse at the operators of the medical facility and the members of the board of directors sitting on the gym floor, others praised the work of the people at the complex.
The meeting started with Dan Clark, the director of the Local Government Center at Montana State University-Bozeman, explaining the role that the non-profit is operating under in Baker while using county-owned property.
He also asked people at the meeting to keep in mind the need to build up a community and not try to tear it down.
“My hope was to at least help the community understand what is it they should expect,” Clark explained after the meeting. “This is a very complicated relationship between the county and FMC, which is a non-profit. It appeared to me (during the meeting) that clarity would be helpful and that it would be understood that the (FMC) is not a public entity.
“Some of these (comments) were individual grievances they have which may not be a public issue, but are a beef with the organization or with an individual,” he said.
“There are certain things for any community to survive – school, hospital and a vibrant Mainstreet or downtown. We don’t want to have this issue be a point (of division),” he explained. He said that he has seen some communities become so divided that they start disappearing. They have Facebook posts about how much they hate their communities, then complain that there are no new businesses coming to the towns. “This is the downside of social media. If you are a community that trolls each other (online).... then maybe I should go to Miles City or maybe I should go to Glendive,” Clark said, noting the choice that providers and other businesses have when they look for someplace to expand into. They have choices where to invest.
“How do they use their energy to be more aspirational,” Clark said.
The community had a chance to air out some concerns, according to David Espeland, the Chief Executive Officer of the health care company which serves the southeastern Montana region including Carter, Wibaux and Custer counties.
“There’s a lot of things that need to be said, but I think it is being fueled by a lot of disinformation out there. There are some false statements being made. I need to call them out on that (disinformation), just like they need to call out their concerns about me. I am willing to tell them the truth. I am willing to show them that they are wrong..
“Only if everybody’s willing to come to the table,” he said after the sometimes boisterous meeting concluded. “Everybody has to be willing to be working towards the same goal. If there are people that are not … what irritates me is there is so much umbrage against me. It tells me that they do not want to work towards a goal – they want to see me burn,” he said. “They want to see me get fired. That isn’t productive.”
He noted that there were a mix of people among the more than 100 attending the meeting in Longfellow Gym March 18.
He said that the board at the complex has an annual meeting which often has few if any people attending. “We send out requests for people if they want to have it … but it seems no one wants to have it. The way the corporation should work is if they have interest, they should join as a member. Then, when it comes time for the annual meeting, they have a vote on who is going to be the next trustee or two – or whatever happens to be vacant.”
“I ask people do you want to have an annual meeting and nobody ever says yes,” Espeland said, adding that the people need to become motivated and participate. “Nobody wants to be a volunteer any more. Nobody wants to do something that they are not paid to do.
“I’d be happy to hold the meetings,” he said. “When I held the mill levy meetings at FMC and why we need the mill levy.... I have two people show up.”
“I usually have one FMC employee and I usually have one person from the community,” the CEO explained. “Generally I have only about three people listen to me talk about this and it is in the newspaper and put on the website.”
“Nobody is interested. Nobody wants to attend the annual meeting. Nobody wants to come to talk with me about the problems …. And then, all of a sudden, I have this insurrection going on.”
“It is confusing to me,” he said.
He noted that some people in the audience were angry and were not interested in letting go of that anger. “It really comes down to both sides wanting to work towards the common good for this community... and to solve problems.”
In addition, Espeland said he was limited in some of his comments by patient privacy rules. “There are a lot of things that I could disclose, but they are confidential and I am bound by confidentiality. Some of that is happening here.”
Chance to speak
For Brenda Stoddard, a local businesswoman with some questions about the FMC operations in Baker, the evening was an opportunity to focus on how to improve the situation between the community and the Fallon Medical Complex.
“The public needed to be heard. This was the public’s meeting tonight and the public’s chance to ask questions to David (the CEO) and the board,” she said.
Stoddard added that the hospital board needs to expand its 15 minutes of comments and allow for more public opportunity to speak. “That would help... but they (the board) still have business to complete.
“But, I don’t see this (Thursday’s public meeting) ever happening again – ever.
“I think the public was able to be heard and that is what needed to be done. I think the ball has progressed forward.... and we are going to be able to move forward from this.”
While retention can be a problem for the FMC workforce, Stoddard said that she thought that the one example used to illustrate the problem had been from someone who didn’t like Baker to begin with.
“In my 30 years of business on Main Street in Baker, I have never heard anybody be negative. We are always welcoming,” she said, adding that she knows of people who leave motel rooms in Miles City to come to Baker.
Stoddard owns Spirits Plus on Main Street.
During the meeting, Stoddard also focused her criticism on some of the interpersonal aspects of the organization as well as the need for the non-profit to better explain their actions and funding to the public.