By Dennis L. Taylor, The Salinas Californian
SALINAS, CA – July 24, 2014 – Today's departure, just 48 hours after the announcement was made, follows "certain disputes [that have] arisen between between the parties related to Weis' employment with the county and with respect to the strategic direction of NMC, which have resulted in the parties entering into discussions to reach a mutually satisfactory separation as authorized under the employment agreement," states the signed separation agreement.
In signing the agreement, Weis also submitted to a gag order preventing him from discussing any closed session meetings with the Board of Supervisors. "Any disclosure of the confidential information by Weis to others not entitled to it will cause immediate and irreparable harm and significant injury to the county," the agreement states.
The Californian is challenging the premise that disclosing the nature of the dispute would cause injury to the county, and that the public's right to know the details of the dispute trumps the secrecy the county is seeking to maintain. The publication on Thursday filed a California Public Records Act request for documents providing details of the dispute.
The Californian's position is that the well-being of tens of thousands of patients, many of whom are underserved members of the community, far outweighs the county's privacy concerns. When the top official of Monterey County's only safety-net hospital departs under ambiguous circumstances, people are likely to want to know what's wrong with their hospital or its leadership.
"When somebody who holds a public position of great responsibility quits abruptly without any explanation, the public deserves to be told by the county more than just that somebody was working today and won't be working the next," said Peter Scheer, the executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition. "It's a substantial and legitimate public interest in a hospital subsidized by tax dollars. County officials have every obligation to make the reason public."
Also disclosed Thursday were the names of the proposed interim chief executive officer and chief operating officer – Arnold Schaffer and Edward Matthews, respectively. Their placement will need supervisors' approval during a special meeting at 12:30 p.m. Monday in the supervisors' chambers at the county government center, 168 W. Alisal St. in Salinas. Both are being placed at Natividad by Alvarez & Marsal, a health-care consultancy in San Francisco.
Weis will be paid a total severance package of $547,500. He earned a salary of $365,000 annually as NMC's CEO.
One concern often voiced during public meetings is the financial stability of the hospital. A voicemail left for Carol Adams, a spokeswoman for the hospital, requesting financial documents was not immediately returned Thursday. But reviewing the hospital's fiscal year 2014 annual report, the emerging picture is one of a hospital that has been financially shored up, but is still wobbling between profits and losses – a mixed diagnosis.
For example, a number of key financial indicators point toward Weis having a profound effect on the fiscal stability of NMC. In fiscal year 2006 – June 30 through July 1 – the hospital was in intensive care, bleeding cash at a rate of more than $2 million a month, or nearly $66,700 a day. By 2008, with Weis in charge, NMC turned an annual profit of $10.6 million, according to the hospital's annual reports. That momentum resulted in a spectacular year in 2011 where it generated a $32.2 million profit with a net margin of 16.1 percent, exceptional by any peer standards.
But then in 2012 the net margin and profit began to tumble — $4.8 million that year, $4.5 million in 2013 and a projected $2 million this fiscal year with a mere 1.1 percent net margin.
In January of this year Weis was called to the podium during a Board of Supervisors meeting to answer questions about the hospital's fiscal health. At that point in NMC's fiscal year, which ended June 30, Weis acknowledged the medical center was projected to run between $8 million and $9 million in the red. At that time it was posting about a $4 million loss. The full 2014 fiscal year-end data have not been released.
Weis said at the time that the losses were due to heavy investments in staffing, equipment and other upgrades to prepare for the launch of the Level II trauma center, which was granted to Natividad last year by an outside panel over rival Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System. He said he planned to fill close to 70 new positions. Those new hires would staff everything from the trauma bay and intensive care unit to medical-surgical and laboratory jobs. The trauma center is slated to open no later than January 2015.