Originally created 07/23/98

Center's changes positive



CLEARWATER - Officials at the Margaret J. Weston Medical Center say the representative from the U.S. Inspector General's office will find a much-changed rural health facility when he arrives Monday.

"We've put controls in place, reorganized the board, established financial checks and balances and taken belt-tightening measures," said Reginal Barner, chairman of the board.

Recent changes and a new attitude by the board, he said, make him confident the center will get through the coming program audit without further complications.

"I do want to emphasize that Jeffrey Bullock from the I.G.'s office made it clear he was not conducting an investigation but rather an audit, which is a more detailed program review," he said.

The audit was called for after a full program review conducted by the regional office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Atlanta resulted in a scathing report on the center's muddled financial procedures and unorthodox management style.

Wallace Copeland, review team leader, placed the full responsibility for the center's financial disarray squarely on the board of directors in place at that time.

It is an assessment with which Mr. Barner agrees.

"The buck stops with the board and the board is -- and should be held -- accountable," he said. "The board has to set strong policies and strong internal controls."

He maintains that the new board of directors has done just that.

Only three members of the current board -- the Rev. Joseph Harrison, Suzanne Lusk and Amy Hane -- were members last March during the full program review conducted by the Atlanta office.

Four members, including former Chairman Elaine van der Linden, resigned shortly after the review.

"I resigned because I felt certain members of the board were putting personalities before the good of the center," Mrs. van der Linden said.

In fact, Mrs. van der Linden said, she made phone calls to the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington as well as to the inspector general's office asking that the Weston Center undergo a full program audit.

Other board members resigned after the regional office suggested that all members serving longer than 90 days leave the board.

The new board has been organized along the lines suggested by federal guidelines and its formerly defunct committees are functioning once again, Mr. Barner said.

The center has also undergone belt tightening measures, Executive Director Tony Dunn said.

Operations at Hahn Village have been reduced to Monday and Thursday and the personnel has been transferred to the main facility in Clearwater. Staff hours have also been reduced from five to four days, saving a projected $125,000 by the end of the fiscal year.

"We cut in every possible way we could and still offer quality care," Mr. Dunn said.

In addition, strict financial procedures with checks and balances have been put in place. Purchasing controls have been built into the system and specific documentation is required before payment or reimbursement, Mr. Dunn said. Each check requires two signatures, that of the fiscal officer or one of four board members.