Hospital letter outlines board’s findings against former CEOBy Les Bowen for Lake Chelan Mirror | Oct. 21, 2009 | Original source behind paywall
Documents released last week show the build-up in disputes between former CEO Dave Bernier and the hospital district’s board of directors.
Bernier was fired Sept. 14 after more than two months on administrative leave. Last week, the Lake Chelan Mirror obtained a copy of the letter terminating Bernier’s employment dated Sept. 17. The letter cites several instances which the board said it considered dishonest, fraudulent or had a negative impact on the hospital district.
“The hospital did certainly not do their homework and there are a lot of allegations in the letter,” Bernier said in an interview Friday. “They are not facts.”
The former CEO disputed the allegations against him.
“We are proceeding with a tort claim and the issues that are identified in the termination letter are subordinate to our claim,” Bernier said. “There is going to be a discrimination claim.”
Both in an interview and in court papers, Bernier offered an alternative perspective to the board’s view.
“They did not give me an opportunity to correct the issues,” Bernier told the Mirror.
He said the board’s disciplinary actions came as a surprise to him and that he had successfully completed his annual evaluation in February.
“Across the board, the commissioners graded me excellent or outstanding,” he said.
The termination letter tells a different story. Bernier received a housing stipend for housing costs in Chelan that was supposed to terminate once he sold his Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., home.
“We discovered that you discontinued making payments on your condominium in Ft. Lauderdale on June 1, 2008,” the letter states. Bernier claims he was never been properly served with foreclosure documents, even though an affidavit from the process server states otherwise. the former CEO said most of the foreclosure documents bear Florida addresses and just one shows up with a Washington address.
“There is no way I could know that the condo would foreclose when it did,” Bernier told the Mirror.
But putting those issues aside, the former CEO went back to what he sees as a bigger issue – that the funds that were provided to offset the cost of living in Chelan.
That’s reflected in papers filed in Chelan Superior Court, where Bernier said the housing stipend was provided to “help cover the high cost of living in Chelan. It was not given to cover my Florida Mortgages.”
The board’s letter to Bernier also alleges he misrepresented the board’s position related to his housing stipend by attempting to make it a permanent increase to his compensation. The board alleges he altered the agenda and minutes from the Feb. 17 commissioners’ meeting. Both are allegations, the former CEO disputes.
He said when he’s asked for records that would help clear his name, he’s been rebuffed by the hospital. Bernier said his inability to access records, either in his office or retained by the hospital, has hampered his ability to respond to the allegations against him.
The hospital also claims there are several issues related to reimbursements.
One relates to moving expenses. The board initially approved reimbursement of up to $10,000 of Bernier’s moving expenses, but ended up paying out more than $14,000.
“As of June 2009, the hospital was still being contacted by the moving company regarding a past due amount for moving expenses,” states the termination letter, “and although you had received full reimbursement in excess of your contracted amount, you were making monthly payments to the moving company.”
This board considered Bernier’s actions as dishonest and possible theft of property.
Bernier explained in court documents that there is an ongoing dispute with the moving company about charges and he has refused to pay the full amount.
“I did not keep travel reimbursements for my own gain,” he said.
In addition, there are issues related to the hospital’s credit card, which the board claims Bernier used for personal purchases, but never reimbursed. Purchases cited include payment for a hotel room at a conference.
“You acknowledge taking your significant other and his mother to the conference, but have not identified why you needed such an expensive room, nor did you provide explanations for meal charges that far exceed the per diem allowed under hospital policy and clearly indicate you paid for meals for others staying in your room,” the termination letter states.
But Bernier said he always itemized his expenses and reimbursed the hospital for any personal expenses However, his inability to access his personal records in his office a the hospital has prevented him from doing so.
“I plan to itemize travel expenses and reimburse LCCH for the credit card charges they allege were wrongful, once I have the opportunity to access my records,” he stated.
The hospital board also alleges Bernier participated in a golf tournament at the hospital’s expense along with two commissioners, even though he was told “this is not the type of event the hospital could pay for.”
The termination letter goes on to explain that Bernier received personal checks from the two commissioners to cover their fees but never reimbursed the hospital.
Bernier disputes the claim, stating he paid the golf tournament fees back to the hospital, even providing the check number.
A final issue raised by the board relates to references listed at the time Bernier applied for the CEO position. The hospital’s letter claims that one of the individuals was Bernier’s partner – who Bernier requested not be named – and that the former CEO did not disclose that he had both a personal and professional relationship with him.
“After you were hired by the hospital, you let everyone know that you had been in a committed relationship with (him) for over three years,” the letter states.
Bernier’s explanation is that he listed his references in chronological order.
“As it happens, I now have a personal relationship with (him),” Bernier stated in court documents, “but that is not why I listed him as a reference.”
Two more issues were raised by the board, but the details were redacted from the documents. According to court proceedings last Friday, where the documents were discussed, the issues relate to allegations of criminal charges in Klickitat County and a sexual harassment claim at Lake Chelan Community Hospital.
Portions of board’s termination letter to the Bernier and his responses filed in court have not been released.
Regarding the criminal case, a clerk at the Klickitat County courthouse in Goldendale confirmed that the case relates to a misdemeanor-level cyberstalking charge.
Bernier hasn’t see the details of the allegations against him Klickitat County.
“I can’t comment on something I really don’t know about,” he said.
In his interview, Bernier added that since he was placed on administrative leave, he hasn’t been asked a single question.
“I have been prohibited from talking to the staff and commissioners,” he said. That’s something he considers inappropriate, as “anyone should be able to talk to their elected officials.”
However, it appears there has been some contact regarding the matters addressed in the termination letter.
In the opening paragraph, the board’s letter states, “Pursuant to the agreement, you were provided notice of the possible reasons for potential termination in a letter to you through your attorney dated Aug. 7, 2009 and you were provided an opportunity to respond to those reasons in Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009 in executive session. The board considered your response as well as other information provided by legal counsel in coming to its conclusion.”
The full text of the termination letter, court documents and other related records can be found on the Mirror’s at lakechelanmirror.com.