Interim CEO at Massena Memorial to serve no more than two months in the wake of Wolleben resignation
Tuesday, June 19, 2018 - 5:34 pm

By ANDY GARDNER

MASSENA -- The town supervisor says the interim CEO will lead Massena Memorial Hospital for no more than two months while they search for a permanent chief executive.

At Monday night’s MMH Board of Managers meeting, CEO Bob Wolleben resigned and the board appointed Ann Gilpin as interim CEO.

Town Supervisor Steve O’Shaughnessy said Gilpin’s job will be to help get the house in order as they continue toward privatizing the town-owned facility.

“The whole idea is for her to come in and steer the ship,” he said. “She really will hit the ground running and do what she can to straighten it out.”

Gilpin was the president and CEO of Oswego Health System in Oswego from 2007 until 2015. Prior to that, she was the president and CEO of Jones Memorial Hospital in Wellsville.

Super Supports Privatizing

O’Shaughnessy said he continues to support privatizing MMH.

“We have to” privatize, he said in a phone interview. “You can’t have municipal facility funds co-mingling with a private.

“Why do we need to be in the hospital biz? It can be run much more efficiently in a private manner.”

He also cited concerns for making sure the hospital remains both a healthcare provider and employer.

“We want to make sure they have a job and a viable hospital,” he said.

Massena Memorial has been in the process of privatizing for years, which comes in light of large monthly losses and ever-growing contributions to the state pension system. Wolleben said at many meetings that the state and federal government require affiliation plans as a condition to get grant money.

At the June 18 Board of Managers meeting, MMH announced a $436,940 loss for May and $886,112 year-to-date.

The hospital and town are engaging in transfer negotiations, with the aim of figuring out how the town will be compensated for the loss of the asset, and which liabilities might stay with the town or go with the hospital.

Departure Anticipated

O’Shaughnessy said he had anticipated Wolleben’s resignation, and they had been looking for someone to take over.

“We kind of had the idea that he was going to bail and he was going to, I don’t know, if it’s family or what it is. We did have that person (Gilpin) ready, and met with him (Wolleben) before the meeting and he told us of his wishes. We left him and we brought (Board of Managers vice chair) Dave MacClennan and (board chair) Scott Wilson into the room and told them Bob’s wishes,” he said. “We had an executive session afterwards and they appointed Ann Gilpin.”

Wolleben declined comment on the reason for his departure, and referred a reporter to the town supervisor.

Public Benefit Corporation?

Assemblywoman Addie Jenne, D-Theresa, recently introduced a bill in the state Assembly that would make MMH a public benefit corporation, preserving it as a public entity but relieving the taxpayers of liability.

O’Shaughnessy said he does not support that.

“That was done without knowledge or approval of either the hospital or the town,” the supervisor said. “I believe Addie Jenne has Massena and Massena hospital in her heart, but she’s doing that as a Hail Mary type thing. If nothing else can come through, there’s always that we can go to. I don’t think we’re there or anywhere close to that.”

In a statement given via a spokesman, Jenne said the public benefit corporation legislation she introduced “is not meant to disrupt the town of Massena's current course of action seeking to privatize Massena Memorial Hospital so that the hospital is able to affiliate with another health care institution.”

"I am fully aware the Massena Town Board, due to the financial constraints facing Massena Memorial Hospital, has focused on privatizing to strengthen the hospital for several years," Jenne said in a prepared statement.

Jenne said she introduced the bill at the end of session “as a starting point, if necessary for future discussions.”

“The legislative process in Albany and locally would have taken more time than left in the current session, but she said she felt raising the awareness of this option was important,” her office said.

Vague Motion, Proper Discussion

Gilpin’s appointment and Wolleben’s resignation came after Wilson made a motion for executive session to discuss “a contract/personnel issue.” Neither of those are included in the state Open Meetings Law as appropriate reasons to expel the public.

Wilson later acknowledged that they talked about Wolleben’s departure and Gilpin’s hiring. The Open Meetings Law does allow executive session for “matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person or corporation.”

Kristen O’Neil, assistant director of the New York State Department of State, said the motion should have been more specific, but the discussion was appropriate for executive session.

“If it was establishing an employment contract … or a contract to provide services … if they appointed someone new, it sounds to me it’s likely they went in for a proper purpose,” O’Neil said. “The goal when someone makes a motion going into executive session is the board members and the public should know they’re going in for a proper purpose.

“It would be insufficient if the people listening can’t determine if they’re going in for a proper purpose.”