Of the 11 Teton Valley Hospital Foundation Board members, eight have resigned after some said their executive director Jennifer Wade was forced out of her position by hospital CEO Keith Gnagey and Teton Valley Hospital Board members.
Ahead of this story, Teton Valley Hospital administration issued a press release at the end of the day on Tuesday announcing that the nonprofit Hospital Foundation would be folded into Teton Valley Hospital operations.
“We tried to make this as easy as possible and to avoid any bad feelings in the community,” said Ray Howard, the board chair of the Hospital Foundation and board member for the last seven years. “And why the hospital wanted to do this, I don’t know.”
Wade said she signed a non-disclosure agreement with the hospital and would not comment for this story.
Howard was the first to resign in late February followed by other board members including Jim Wunsch, Julie Whitlock, Carrie Snoey, Erin Borbet, Mark Anderson, Mara Brannon, Jeannie Cushman, Maryann Russo, Tucky Harrison and Alisha Horrocks.
“I’m resigning because the CEO of the hospital went around the Foundation board and made it impossible for the Executive Director to do her job,” said Hospital Foundation board member Jim Wunsch last week to the Teton Valley News. Wunsch, who has served on the Foundation board for two months, said he never felt comfortable with Gnagey serving as a voting member of the Hospital Foundation Board because the bylaws specifically precluded him from being a voting member. Wunsch said there was a conflict of interest with Gnagey serving as both CEO and a voting Foundation Board member.
“I can’t support the way the hospital is being run,” said Wunsch. “The hospital provides a valuable service to the community. I am, however, concerned about Keith running the hospital with little or no oversight from the Hospital’s Board of Trustees. There are just too many indications that something doesn’t add up.”
While Gnangy insisted in an interview with the Teton Valley News late Tuesday evening that hospital board conversations have always circled around how best to manage and utilize the Hospital Foundation dating back years, he said he could not comment about the events that led up to the hospital board moving ahead with bringing the nonprofit under the hospital’s purview.
For Howard and other board members who followed, the kernel of consternation was born from a letter sent from the hospital board’s executive committee to the Hospital Foundation at the end of January citing concerns within the nonprofit organization and specifically with the performance of the executive director. The letter went further to suggest that the Foundation look to replace the executive director immediately.
Blindsided by this letter, Hospital Foundation board members asked for specific documentation for the hospital board’s findings. But before their questions could be satisfied, Gnagey shut down the Foundation’s email access ahead of dismissing the executive director, effectively rendering the executive director incapable of doing her job according to Howard.
“He shut off access to her email account,” said Howard on Monday. “I said, ‘Keith, why are you doing this? This basically shuts down the Foundation.’”
Howard said that Gnagey told him he was shutting down the email to protect the hospital. Gnagey would not comment this week on closing the executive director’s email account down. He did say that the executive director was an employee of the hospital and fell under the guidelines and standards set out by Teton Valley Hospital and not the Foundation. Howard and Wunsch disagree to this end. While the executive director receives a paycheck from the hospital, the Foundation reimburses the hospital for the salary. And as the Foundation is a separate legal entity from the hospital, the assumption and by-laws of the Foundation would suggest that the executive director was under the authority of the Foundation.
In the January letter from the hospital board’s executive committee, which includes Bob Whipple, Aaron Hansen, Mike Wine and Gil Hundley, the hospital board laid out a variety of suggestions for the Foundation such as increasing the number of Foundation Board members, seeking approval from the hospital board with regard to new Foundation Board members and replacing the executive director. Up until this time, said Howard, the hospital board rarely engaged with the Foundation and when they did, it was at social events.
Howard called Whipple after receiving the letter and asked Whipple to provide further documentation to back up the Hospital Board’s desire to replace the executive director. Whipple reiterated in an email to the Foundation that the request of the hospital board was born from reports they received from the Gnagey, the hospital CFO Tish Miller, hospital legal counsel and former hospital board member Herb Heimerl and hospital auditor, Dingus Zarecor & Associates out of Spokane, Washington.
But before the Foundation Board could act, Gnagey shut down the Foundation’s email account.
Howard said he met with Gnagey on Jan. 25, just before the Foundation received the letter. He said Gnagey made no indication that a letter like the one that was received was coming to the Foundation.
“None of us feel that Jenny has done anything to warrant her termination,” said Howard. “I didn’t think until we got the letter that there was a problem.” Howard said that of all the executive directors he had worked with over the years serving on the Foundation board, Wade’s work nearly doubled the donation base of the nonprofit which directly impacted Teton Valley Hospital. According to IRS 990 forms, the Foundation grew its donor base by nearly double from 2016 to 2017, reporting more than $600,000 in donations and grants in 2017.
Foundation Board member Julie Whitlock, who has served for almost five years on the nonprofit board, agreed that the moves by the hospital board in the last few weeks were surprising. She acknowledged that when Wade was hired as the executive director, there was tension between her and Gnagey from the start. Whitlock said that despite that tension, she observed Wade as efficient, creative and always coming to the table with ideas to best serve the hospital.
On Tuesday, Gnagey said because the Foundation board was resigning, the administration and board needed to act quickly to reestablish the nonprofit under the umbrella of Teton Valley Health — itself a nonprofit after the medical facility departed from Teton County in 2013. Currently there is no plan set forth and a new job description has to be written for a Director of Development who would oversee maintaining and growing the donor base.
Gnagey said that this is a change for the community, adding that some people will agree with this change and others would not.
Hospital board chair Bob Whipple did not return a call for comment but responded to an email inquiry from the Teton Valley News on Tuesday.
He wrote, “The Executive Director of Teton Valley Health Foundation receives W-2 statements under the name of Teton Valley Health Care, Inc. However, she was tasked as the Executive Director of the Foundation.”
“As we’ve stated to you repeatedly, by federal law and TVH policy we’re unable to answer any questions relating to actions, wages, performance, etc. of specific personnel. Several of your questions cannot be answered without violating the privacy of employees or former employees.
The all-volunteer Hospital Board of Directors exists to ensure that TVH is a sustainable, valued asset for our community. We do not make decisions to enrich individuals. Our decision to create a department focused on donor-management will reduce the overhead associated with fundraising.
Performance bonuses earned by the CEO are based on the individual’s performance and TVH, Inc. operating revenue, and do not include income gained from grants, private donations, or See N’ Save Thrift Store income.”