Saturday, August 11, 2012

(Stanislaus Co) Ambulance board addresses grand jury recommendations -

West Side Community Healthcare District directors refuted key recommendations in a critical Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury report, questioned others and agreed with some.

“There were some issues I agreed with; some I took offense to,” said board President Rick Daniel.

While not yet signing off fully on the required response to the grand jury, board members at the July 24 meeting expressed no interest in further investigating allegations of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment or creating stipends for directors in hopes that compensation would entice more community members to step forward to serve on the ambulance board.

Both were among the recommendations issued by the grand jury.

Daniel said he shared the findings of the sexual harassment investigation with the grand jury, and did his best to answer questions it posed.

He contends – and nobody on the board dissented – that the district has no need to revisit an investigation which was properly conducted.

“That investigation was done. As far as we’re concerned, it was done correctly. When it’s finished it’s finished,” Daniel stated.

“We are not going to re-open the investigation,” board member George Schmidt affirmed.

Directors also expressed no interest in offering a stipend to serve on the board.

The grand jury report suggested that stipends might encourage more candidates to serve, perhaps avoiding the personal conflicts of interest which currently exist. Two directors have family members employed by the district, which operates West Side Community Ambulance.

It wasn’t the first time the board had heard the suggestion, Daniel noted, as a consultant brought in to do a board workshop also suggested that a stipend be established.

But, director Barbara Hutchins noted, that matter had been discussed and decided against.

“I explained to the grand jury that even when money was good the board did not seek out remuneration,” Daniel said. “We have always done this as a service to the community. However they want to take that and make their recommendations, that’s fine. We don’t seek any kind of stipend or enticement to be here.”

Daniel acknowledged the ongoing issue with finding people to serve on the board, which has led to community members with close ties being the only ones who step forward to do so.

“I’d love to have 10 people applying for vacant seats,” he told Mattos Newspapers.

Daniel said the directors who do have relatives on staff step aside as needed to avoid conflicts.

The board did not totally refute the grand jury report.

Board members pointed out that the district is already in the process of implementing sexual harassment awareness training. The grand jury recommended such a program for all supervisory employees, but the district is implementing that training for all staff members, Daniel said.

He also said the district will develop a detailed job description and identify qualifications for the ambulance director position, as the grand jury recommended.

Another recommendation is that the district rescind a policy requiring all employees to sign a document saying they have not been the victim of sexual harassment or are aware of harassment occurring in the workplace.

That policy was proposed but not yet in place, Daniel pointed out, and is similar to one Merced County uses. He said he would further investigate the ramifications of the policy.

Daniel said that the two members of the grand jury who interviewed him seemed appeased by the information that he shared with them.

He also stated that he was able to refute contentions that former Ambulance Director Chuck Coelho was forced out of the position he had held for many years. The complaint filed with the grand jury cited concern over circumstances surrounding the departure of the ambulance director who, the summary stated, had initiated and conducted the preliminary investigation into allegations of sexual harassment.

Daniel said he presented the grand jury with newspaper stories which clearly indicated the director was not forced out the position.

“That helped clear up a lot of it right there,” he told the board.

Daniel said that, based on feedback from the board discussion, a response to the grand jury would be drafted and brought back before the group for review at its Aug. 28 meeting.

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