Local News

Wrangell tries to strip hospital board powers

The Wrangell Assembly wants to take away many of the powers of the town’s elected hospital board. It’s the latest development in an ongoing battle between the Wrangell Borough and its publicly-funded hospital.

The Assembly held a first reading Friday on an ordinance changing its relationship with the board of the Wrangell Medical Center and Long-Term Care Facility. (Click to read the Wrangell Hospital Board ordinance.)

The ordinance makes clear that the hospital and its nine-member board are part of the borough government. It also greatly limits the areas where the hospital or board can act on their own.

It requires Assembly approval before spending more than $25,000 on construction, repairs and contracts. The borough manager and attorney would also review such spending.

The ordinance also calls for the hospital administrator’s contract to be approved by the borough manager and attorney. Changing or ending that contract also needs approval.

The five Assembly members attending Friday’s special meeting voted to move the ordinance forward. It will next come up August 28th, where it could be passed.

That vote will come after Wrangell residents elect new hospital board members in Tuesday’s special election.

Judy Allen, who is a candidate for the board, testified that the ordinance could solve some serious problems.

“I believe it is very necessary to take this action, because we saw what could happen the way the last ordinance was written and abused by people who chose to abuse it,” Allen said.

The ordinance makes clear that the borough manager supervises the hospital administrator, just like any other department head.

It also requires grant applications be approved by the borough manager. And personnel policies must be approved by the Assembly.

The Assembly member who acts as hospital board liaison must also be allowed into closed-door executive sessions.

Physician Greg Salard, who has been denied hospital privileges, also testified in favor of the ordinance. But he said it should be changed to allow those doing business with the hospital to serve on its board.

“You are severely limiting a very large number of qualified people from sitting on that board. It’s not just physicians, but there are many others as well,” Salard said.

The Assembly addressed that issue earlier this year and decided not to allow those with hospital contracts on the panel.

The ordinance stems from several years of conflict, with the hospital and its board on one side, and the Assembly and borough staff on the other.

Voters recalled all but one board member earlier this year. At their final meeting, six of the recalled members fired hospital administrator Noel Selle-Rea. They gave him a $1.2 million severance package. Nearly half was paid immediately.

The borough has sued the six board members and the administrator. Part of the suit attempts to recover the severance payment. The board members have asked a judge to drop the suit. Members have said their actions were justified.

Click to read: An ordinance of the assembly of the City and Borough of Wrangell, Alaska, amending title 3, chapter 3.32 of the Wrangell municipal code relating to the Wrangell Medical Center and Long-Term Care Facility Board.

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