Gainesville Hospital District Governing Board, sometimes referred to as the Board of Directors, oversees North Texas Medical Center.

The forum was held at First Christian Church’s fellowship hall and began at 7 p.m.

Candidates for the North Central Texas College board and the North Texas Medical Center Board of Directors were invited. City and school board candidates were not invited this year due to time constraints, explained Sandra Currie, president of the local LWV.

Tom Carson of KGAF-AM, 1580, served as moderator for the debate, with Jody Shotwell of the station controlling the sound. Mary McCain of the LWV was the timekeeper. Sheila and Ed Graham operated video equipment. Nita Boardman is the group’s program chairman.

Incumbents Diana Eichenberger, Jay Freeman, Jerry Parr and challengers Janice Almon Call, Bob Day, Jim Hughes and Ricky Purcell are set to appear on the ballot May 13.

Incumbent Dr. Khawaja Anwar withdrew from the race March 21.

The positions are at-large and each are voted on by constituents of the hospital district. Those residing in the Muenster Hospital District or outside any of the districts may not vote.

Day and Call were not present at the forum. Day, who ran for a seat on the board previously, said in an interview Wednesday he was ill and could not attend the forum. Call said she had previous engagements with an orchestra she plays in that evening.

The following questions were presented by the League, after each candidate gave a brief introductory statement.

Question No. 1: What do you see as your role as a member of the Gainesville Hospital District?

Eichenberger said her role is to serve the community, the citizens and the hospital.

“I’m there to serve, and that’s all I’m there for — to serve the community,” she said.

Parr said “We’re there for policy.”

He said the administration should be free to manage and the staff should be free to work, agreeing with Eichenberger.

“One of the things we learned is that a hospital is different from any other business,” Parr said, noting Medicare/Medicaid payment complexities as an example.

Hughes referred to the name of the board in his answer.

“Policy is important, but there’s more they should be concerned with,” he said. “They’re a governing board.”

Purcell, speaking briefly, said “Y’all already talked about all of it.”

He said the goal of the board should be “to make things go as smooth as possible.”

Freeman said the hospital should be run as a business, “not just as another service out on the hill — it’s a hospital.”

Freeman said the board can come up with and help steer and develop new ideas, such as a new wellness center or a pool for therapy.

“It’s things like that,” he said, “finding ways to serve the community ...”

Question No. 2: What qualifications or experience do you have that you feel qualifies you to fulfill the responsibilities of a representative of the Gainesville Hospital District.

Parr said “When you look at a hospital, our responsibility is primarily healthcare to the community. But it’s a business ... We’ve got to generate enough revenue to cover expenses, therefore business experience is important ...”

In his opening statement, Parr noted his experience guiding several companies.

Hughes spoke briefly.

“Everybody’s got to be concerned, number one, for patient care,” he said, also noting a previous stint on the Gainesville Hospital District board.

Purcell, after a pause, said “patient care should be number one.”

He noted his 12 years working for the hospital as experience.

Freeman said he has a background in public relations and marketing.

“You can do something but (one should) let the people know what’s being done,” he said, noting the role public relations plays in a public hospital.

Freeman said he sometimes feels overly “quixotrious” — that he often attempts to right all perceived wrongs with the hospital.

Eichenberger, who works at a local bank, said her experience on the board is worth another term.

“Nothing can prepare you for that. The medical world is totally different. It’s nothing like banking,” she said.

She added her daughter was born at Gainesville Memorial Hospital and has an emotional connection to the institution.

“I finally feel like I know what’s going on,” she said, noting her three years on the board.

Three questions from the audience were allowed by Carson. Some of the questions were consolidated into a single question.

Audience question No. 1 asked whether changes in personnel (including recent dismissals of several hospital employees) are effective.

Hughes said “No, I think there’s many things that have to be done.”

He said the hospital has around 50 percent occupancy, on average, which does not finance the operations adequately. He said it will be important for the hospital to find ways to increase the quality of care and bring in more patients.

Purcell said “There have been some changes — some for the good and some for the worse.”

In his concluding remarks, he said many changes should be made to hospital and his experience as an employee would help the board choose a feasible plan.

Freeman said when NTMC was built to replace GMH, “we planned on playing to a full house.”

Freeman said occupancy is around 60 to 65 percent currently.

“Like most companies, we’re having a lean time,” he said.

Eichenberger said it was the administration’s decision to cut back on the workforce.

“The board does not micromanage,” she said. “We can’t say if those changes will be made. We don’t know. We’re there to support decisions and policies that are made.”

She said as the fiscal condition improves “we might need to hire more people.”

Parr said of the board “we set goals.”

He said by raising standards and having each department set clear objectives for each employees, money was saved. He noted the hospital did not use a general layoff to ease its financial burden but evaluated the situation by department.

“I think this really worked out well. I’m sorry some people had to leave, but that was a small part of the savings,” Parr said.

Audience question No. 2 concerned the state of hospital employee morale.

Purcell said “I’ve talked to numerous employees. Morale is at an all-time low.”

He said the board has the decision to influence the administration and directly affect morale.

“If something in the administration is not working, it falls on the board to do something,” he said.

Freeman, noting his service on the patient satisfaction committee, said he hasn’t seen a dip in morale, though “nobody feels good about their co-worker having to walk off.”

He said in his closing remarks that if there were a large morale problem it would be reflected in his patient satisfaction questionnaires and other research.

Eichenberger said the trustees of the hospital can maintain an open-door policy and “listen, meet with directors, take advice ... but we cannot act on what any individual tells us.”

She said she knows of some “very happy people” at the hospital, in addition to those upset about the cuts.

Parr said “I think morale is a responsibility ... but it’s very difficult to take care of.”

He said judging by human resources records there has been little turnover outside of nursing and professional ranks, despite the many changes of the last two to three years.

“Anytime you have changes it will affect your morale,” he said.

Hughes said “morale is a big-time problem at the hospital.”

He said the doctors are aware of the problem. He said the board should address morale as they have “the final say on hospital grounds.”

In his concluding remarks, he said he has talked to “many a people” and noticed a general concern in service and staff reductions.

The final audience question asked if there were any plans to merge with another hospital district or health care service locally.

Freeman, Eichenberger and Hughes said there were no such plans. Purcell said he hopes not, in the meantime. Parr said he has heard of no such plan but there may be benefits to entering relationships with other health care providers.

“Notice I said ‘relationships,’ not ‘mergers,’” Parr said.

Reporter Andy Hogue may be contacted at andyhoguegdr@ntin.net

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