PMC Board Not Renewing Portner’s Employee Contract

Members of the Prowers Medical Center Board of Directors voted Thursday, December 20, not to renew Dr. Barry Portner’s employee contract with the hospital, but all medical privileges for Dr. Portner will be left in place. The vote was unanimous for the board of directors with the exception of Dr. Kevin McGrath who was not present. It was explained that hospital CEO, Craig Loveless, was unable to attend the special board meeting due to illness.

Dr. Portner’s employee contract renewal was the only issue on the agenda during the meeting which became heated at times, from remarks directed at the board and hospital Compliance Officer and in-house counsel, Joshua Kotter, by Dr. Portner’s attorney, Mark Davis. The hospital’s attorney, John Lefferdink, was also present at the meeting. The issues leading to the board’s decision were not made public as explained by board chairwoman, Candy Ruedeman, when a member of the audience asked what had brought all this about. “What exactly is the problem with Dr. Portner,” Joyce McKorkle asked. Ruedeman explained that as the deliberations of the board were made in executive session, they could not be made public. Kotter explained that the board of directors meeting had been called to consider Portner’s year to year contract renewal and nothing else.

Kotter reiterated the board’s position several times through the remainder of the meeting when Portner’s attorney, Mark Davis, began to outline some of the events between Portner, Prowers Medical Center and CEO Craig Loveless, going back to October and early November of this year. “Is it going to be in the way of trying to put a legal case in front of the board?” asked Kotter. Davis responded, “No, it’s going to be in the way of whether or not there were good faith negotiations in this case. That’s what this is about.” Davis stated that the board had tabled negotiations for Portner’s contract during a special meeting called for November 1 that lasted for about an hour. The board of director meeting minutes for the October 24 session shows that following an executive session, board member Ronnie Farmer motioned not to renew Dr. Portner’s contract and the particulars would be addressed by CEO Craig Loveless. The motion was passed unanimously.

Davis stated that twelve hours following the November 1 meeting, Portner was escorted from the hospital, under what he termed, “an amorphous accusation of misconduct on his part”. He continued, “I think the public needs to know the way this hospital treated this man and the way the hospital continues to treat the man. They make false allegations about him that gets out to the public.” Davis didn’t specify who it was from the hospital that had made public comments about Portner, but he added that there would be legal consequences.

In a calm voice, Dr. Portner told the board that he was willing to negotiate his salary and would even work at a lesser salary for a couple of years, but when he was suspended, those negotiations ended. Portner added that he believed he had done a good job for the hospital during his ten year relationship with PMC, adding, “In the last five years, I’ve worked 24/7 trying to save this hospital money.” He went on to say, “I think you’ve listened to a CEO that’s made decisions here that are far from normal and I can’t believe the board would support this. I think it’s embarrassing that the board would support this and that’s all I have to say.”

Ronnie Farmer, board member, addressed Portner, stating that discussions in executive session would remain private unless a court order authorized that. He added, “Taking into consideration there’s been a lot of soul searching by everybody on the board to try to come to a conclusion or a decision that would be beneficial to everybody. I’m sure everybody would be much better off or feel much better if you retired today, as an example, I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t, but whenever someone retires, there isn’t a retaliation done by the board that says you have to stay here, and whenever there is something else that happens, then that creates a resentment.” Farmer added that the board tried to take into account everyone’s feelings and done what’s best for the persons involved, the hospital and the community.

Attorney Davis stated that he felt actions were underway to prevent Dr. Portner from maintaining his hospital privileges once his employee contract has expired. That is due to occur on March 31, 2013.

By Russ Baldwin

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