Thursday, June 26, 2014
(Alameda County) Washington Hospital board, CEO criticized by grand jury
June 23, 2014
By Rebecca Parr
San Jose Mercury News
The Daily Review
FREMONT -- Washington Hospital Healthcare System gives the impression of secrecy, often meeting in closed session, not making its reports public and giving poor responses to public records requests, the Alameda County grand jury has concluded.
The district also violated the Brown Act, the state's open-meeting law, on at least one occasion, the jury said in its report released Monday.
"The lack of transparency has invited criticism that the district has strayed from the standards expected of a public agency," the report said.
In its report, the grand jury also faulted Oakland schools' record-keeping, the East Bay Municipal Utility District's rate hike and the Oakland Fire Department's collection of inspection fees.
Washington Hospital's board has four to five meetings a month, but only one is videotaped and posted online, and the jury questioned the amount of time given over to closed sessions.
"The grand jury finds it odd that the district spends so much time meeting in closed session and yet rarely has anything to report" on actions taken there, the jury said.
It called the directors, who have served on the board for years, complacent and recommended term limits.
In a written response, district board President Dr. Bernard Steward said that the board "will seriously consider the findings and recommendations in the report." The board will file a formal response within 90 days.
The grand jury did say that for more than 50 years, the hospital has provided state-of-the-art medical care.
In June 2013, a resident asked for 2012 income and expense documents for district-owned retail properties, the report said. After repeated requests for more than two months, the district revealed only total revenue, total expenses and net operating income, the resident told the grand jury.
"If this was the only documentation provided, ... the grand jury could understand the public frustration about the transparency of the district," the report said. "The grand jury questions the district's commitment to the Public Records Act and overall transparency as a public agency."
The grand jury also found that the district did not share meeting documents with the public and at one meeting told some grand jury members to sign in, a request that violates the state open meeting law.
The district's CEO, Nancy Farber, also was criticized by the grand jury.
Farber, one of the state's highest-paid public officials, with more than $1 million in annual compensation, was reimbursed by the district for personal donations to several charities.
"This practice was misleading in that it gave the public a perception that the CEO was being philanthropic, when in fact the money was being used to bolster the CEO's image," the report said.
Farber did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
The grand jury investigated allegations Farber violated conflict of interest laws when she recommended donations to a pediatric care facility that employed her husband.
The jury wrote that, technically, Farber followed the law because she notified the district's board of a possible conflict before her husband was hired and offered to step back if he took the job. But her actions created a perception of conflict of interest, the jury said.
In other grand jury findings, the Oakland Unified School District was faulted for auditing mistakes and poor record-keeping that have contributed to a "monumental" financial burden that harms students. The district's failure to properly complete financial audits is costing money that could have been spent on teachers and books, the jury said. Compounding the problems is high staff turnover and a glut of charter schools resulting in too many under-enrolled classrooms.
Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Gary Yee said the grand jury's findings are a year old and the district "has made big changes in the budgeting and auditing in the management system for school attendance."
He agreed the district has too many schools for too few students, a situation that costs the district a lot of money in labor and building upkeep.
"The political will to close schools is really difficult," Yee said.
The jury also found that lax billing and collection of commercial inspection fees is costing the Oakland Fire Department, leaving fire inspectors fewer resources to identify and remove vegetation and other hazards.
The jury criticized the East Bay Municipal Utility District for significantly increasing rates last year without sufficiently explaining the need to the public.Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473 or follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1.