Hospital CEO dismissal

Records detail ongoing payments to CEO at Lake Chelan Community Hospital

By Les Bowen for Lake Chelan Mirror  |   Sept. 2, 2009   |   Original source behind paywall

Lake Chelan Community Hospital’s commissioners remain tight-lipped about the circumstances surrounding hospital CEO Dave Bernier’s administrative leave since June 26.

But documents obtained last week by the Lake Chelan Mirror suggest Bernier may have wrongfully received thousands of dollars in recent months.

According to the original employment agreement from Jan. 1, 2008, Bernier receives an annual $160,000 salary.

In April 2008, the board added an addendum to the employment agreement to pay an additional $3,000 per month because the CEO had not been able to sell his Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., home and was leasing a home in Chelan. On Oct. 28, 2008, the board retroactively increased that amount to $4,000 per month. The second addendum provided that payments to Bernier would end once he sold his home in Ft. Lauderdale.

A review of public records in Broward County, Fla., shows Bernier, who had been working as a real estate agent, owned several properties while he lived in Florida, some of which he sold.

Documents show he still owned two Ft. Lauderdale properties at the time he was hired in January 2008 to oversee the hospital in Chelan. Both were oceanside luxury condominiums in the same building – Units 1101A and 2001A at Jackson Tower Las Olas – and both had served as Bernier’s residence during the time he lived in Florida.

According to documents released by the hospital last week, Bernier received the first housing assistance payment of $3,000 in September 2008. He received $7,000 in November 2008 (presumably $3,000 for October and $4,000 for November). From December 2008 to July 2009, he continued to receive monthly $4,000 payments to assist in housing expenses.

By the time he started collecting the housing assistance payments, Bernier was already in foreclosure proceedings on one condo – Unit 1101A – which, according to Broward County court records, was deeded to US Bank on Oct. 8, 2008.

That same day, court papers were filed for the foreclosure of the second condominium – Unit 2001A – which appears to have been his most recent residence before he left Florida.

On Oct. 22, 2008 – six days prior to the agreement to increase housing payments – the hospital CEO was served with the court summons from the circuit court in Broward County.

Public records reveal that two months prior to Bernier’s placement on administrative leave, the condo was deeded to JP Morgan Chase Bank on April 28. By the date of sale, Bernier had already received the April housing assistance payment.

After the sale of the second condo, Bernier continued to receive payments from the Chelan hospital. Yet a search of the Broward County tax roll and other public records indicates the hospital CEO no longer owns property in Ft. Lauderdale. On May 23, June 20 and July 18 he received $4,000.

When the Mirror contacted LCCH Chief Financial Officer and interim CEO Kevin Abel for comment last week, he said the hospital “neither confirmed nor denied” any involvement in or awareness of the matter. Abel declined to comment further.

It remains unclear whether the payments are all or any part of the investigation into Bernier’s activities at the hospital.

The latest official statement from the hospital regarding Bernier’s continued absence from the hospital was Aug. 12 after an executive session. Commissioners cited state law regarding loss of public funds, specifically referencing “suspected losses associated with the employment agreement.” The matter was referred to the State Auditor’s Office for further review.