Oregon hospital workers petition to recall board members

Unions seeking the ouster of two of Bay Area Hospital's elected board members have submitted petition signatures toward their effort.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 and the Oregon Nurses Association, which represent workers at the Coos Bay, Ore.-based hospital, submitted thousands of signatures to the Coos County Clerk on Oct. 18, they said in a news release shared with Becker's.

The unions initially launched the petition drive in July alleging the hospital's board is responsible for staffing issues and care quality issues at the facility. If enough signatures are gathered, the recall will be put on the local ballot for voters to decide.

Bay Area Hospital's board of directors has stood behind decisions and initiatives to support hospital and community needs while facing many of the same challenges as other hospitals in Oregon and the U.S., a hospital spokesperson told Becker's on Oct. 10.

"The hospital and its board members have given extraordinary efforts over the past two and a half years during an unprecedented public health emergency, ongoing COVID-related outbreaks and restrictions, and financial strains caused by COVID," the spokesperson said. "They are a volunteer group of board members that dedicate their time and efforts to the hospital's mission. Bay Area Hospital is proud of the job it has done keeping its employees and members of our community as safe as possible, physically and mentally, in response to the ongoing COVID crisis. Hospital staff has been deeply dedicated to our community's health throughout this pandemic, and this new political attack on the work they have done is deeply disappointing."

The unions have also pointed to the hiring of Larry Butler Jr. as COO in June. The hospital fired Mr. Butler in June after four days of employment and learning of his criminal history.

"The hospital is not immune to a determined perpetrator of fraud using fabricated documentation, false social security numbers and other incorrect information," a spokesperson for Bay Area Hospital told Becker's on Oct. 10. "Once the fraud was uncovered, only four days after he started, the situation was immediately handled and within two hours the COO was terminated." 

During their campaign, the unions allege that there was theft of signatures. They claim that an unauthorized, unknown person or persons entered the building where the voter-signed petitions were stored and removed about 2,400 signatures.

The unions said in their news release that this resulted in recall petitions only being filed against two board members — Thomas McAndrew, MD, and Donna Rabin, MD.

"The previously gathered signatures would have almost certainly ensured voters had a say in the recall of all six board members, but with this setback we were forced to re-evaluate what was able to be filed," UFCW 555 Communications Coordinator Miles Eshaia said in the news release. "Election interference is a serious matter. We are deeply concerned that the removal of these petitions is the latest in a string of intimidation and subterfuge."

The unions added that a police report has been filed regarding the alleged theft.

In a statement shared with Becker's on Oct. 20, Bay Area Hospital said, "Bay Area Hospital fully respects the democratic system of government and categorically disclaims any knowledge of, let alone involvement in, any alleged 'theft' of signature pages. For the UFCW and ONA to imply any involvement is both false and offensive."

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