What a Difference a Year Makes in Blount Memorial Land

"It’s been 13 months since I first called publicly for more than zero women to serve on my community’s hospital board." - @marybethwest

In arguably the most conciliatory headline in more than a year, I awoke this morning to my local community’s newspaper headline, “Blount Memorial wants mediation, will work with Blount County on a consultant.”

The headline appears in lockstep with the very recent addition of two highly qualified women with excellent finance credentials to the Blount Memorial Hospital (BMH) board – both of whom had their earlier nominations purposely stymied by some (not all) on a nearly all-male board. (A third female BMH board director — also with outstanding finance credentials — was appointed in December of last year and seated this past January, marking the slow-motion process of any woman finally gaining any seat whatsoever on the board of Blount County’s largest healthcare institution.)

On September 3, 2022 — just over a year ago — I wrote a column for The Daily Times, entitled, “BMH board must begin substantively including women.”

At the time, BMH had gone for nearly an entire year without a solitary woman on its otherwise all-male, nine-member board.

The basis of my column came from my direct experience in 2022 of undue BHM CEO and hospital-level Board Chairman criticism and overt retaliation (I was “written up”), after I questioned aspects of the Blount Memorial Foundation audit in August 2022 as a then foundation board member of that separate 501(c)(3), of which BMH is the “sole member.”

Example: The hospital’s CEO was forcing the Foundation’s female president to report to the male treasurer (both hospital employees), with no financial checks/balances then being complied with, in violation of Foundation bylaws (yet the Foundation somehow received a “clean” audit).

On November 25, 2022, a new Daily Times headline read, “Blount Memorial Foundation officer advised to expect removal after questioning audit, gender parity.”

And of course, that “officer” was none other than me.

It was not my first time to the Retaliation Rodeo in my career.

In recent years, my (now former) national trade association, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), spent years retaliating against me, despite that I was a former national board member of the organization with a litany of honors to my name in PRSA over nearly three decades of dedicated volunteer service.

When I discovered that PRSA National was illegally failing to disclose to its own members six- and ultimately seven-figure multi-year net losses of member dollars – in numerous compliance violations with New York State not-of-profit corporation law – the organization’s Board (which includes individuals still inexplicably allowed to continue serving on PRSA’s executive committee) decided to have me stricken from PRSA’s membership roster.

Since then, PRSA has continued — unethically and in ongoing violation of NY statute — to hide just how many members it has lost, and its leadership continues to play an unabashed obfuscation game with non-reporting of its financial losses, all the while gaslighting the entire industry by posturing that “ethics” is its so-called “North Star.”

Sadly, we’re living in a world where this kind of shuck-and-jive routine is commonplace.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch on the Blount Memorial campus, BMH’s highly errant CEO has managed to run down his own financial-solvency clock deep into the fourth quarter, with much of the community now questioning out-loud whether there actually is any realistic time left to salvage BMH’s future.

An entire year has been wasted, with the CEO’s cronies outright obstructing much-needed new BMH Board member appointments, for no other discernible reason but to keep the old-guard / status-quo folks in place.

The straw, or, at least one of them, that broke the camel’s back was the CEO’s abrupt dismissal of the female Foundation board president a few months ago (you know… the female president whom he was forcing earlier to report as an underling to the male treasurer, while disallowing her from having access to the Foundation’s banking records for which she nonetheless was being held accountable).

His maneuvering was followed by the prompt resignations of five Foundation board members.

My own resignation was registered first and under a no-confidence protest of the BMH “Sole Member” CEO and c-suite team, given little evidence by these folks that supporting a true charitable mission of the hospital’s foundation is the actual current motivation of executive management.

On August 26, 2023, I fully called BMH’s CEO to task, documenting in a Daily Times op-ed (Mary Beth West: Blount Memorial Foundation in crisis) a litany of bylaws violations committed at the hands of this man, who – in my own repeated, direct experience – bristled at the notion of any woman daring to question him.

Now that this CEO is finally facing what to him is, I’m sure, the petrifying notion of being held accountable, I certainly hope that the governance tide is turning and that it’s not a too-little-too-late scenario for the overarching hospital’s very existence.

At long last, we have a majority-board composition of individuals with diverse expertise and dynamic viewpoints who won’t be silenced or intimidated by a CEO or his Board Chairman.

One of the more recent-former such Chairmen – who over-stayed his latest appointed Board term by some nine months – had served since Ronald Reagan was president… a multi-decade tenure constituting a governance absurdity and a worst-practice case in point.

The community is widely hoping there will now be an end to so much go-along-to-get-along claptrap that essentially has kicked the can down the road to the hospital’s near-oblivion.

While we still don’t have the much-merited gender parity on the BMH board that our community deserves (given that women’s health is, you know, a thing deserving some measure of consideration in governance decisions for a hospital serving a community composed demographically just over a 50% tipping point by females), at least women have several seats of the required nine at the table – whereas only about a year ago, we had a total of zero.

It’ll sure be nice when Blount Memorial Communications — which reports to Mr. CEO — gets off the dime to update its publicly posted Board listing… since doing so costs nothing.

Stay tuned.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *