Editorial: More transparency needed from St. Charles

The departure of St. Charles Health System CEO Jim Diegel has nothing to do with the controversial ouster of two top executives last month, we’re told, but is the result of Diegel having accomplished his vision.

In the last month, that vision led the hospital system to eliminate the positions of executives Kirk Schueler and Jay Henry, as well as five other managers, as it seeks to trim more than $5 million from its budget. It expects to find $2.4 million of that amount from cuts to its administrative staff.

Board Chairman Tom Sayeg called the proximity of timing “coincidental” when Diegel’s impending departure was announced Monday. Meanwhile, spokeswoman Kayley Mendenhall said the additional five managers and their positions would not be identified “to protect their privacy.”

Where is the transparency for such a critical public institution?

St. Charles Health System is essential to the safety of each and every resident of Central Oregon. It runs all the area’s hospitals and employs a growing number of its primary care health providers.

As a nonprofit, it takes on the public trust in return for significant tax advantages. Much of its income comes from government-funded health payments through Medicare and Medicaid.

Under Diegel’s leadership, St. Charles has fulfilled what he described as his professional goal: creating a regional health delivery system, with hospitals and primary care clinics throughout the region. It has also suffered severe financial challenges and employee turmoil, including a difficult union-organizing effort.

It was also under Diegel’s leadership that the management staff was formed that is now being severely cut. Was it too big? Or will it now be insufficient to the task?

The board owes the public a fuller accounting of what’s going on. Yes, there are privacy issues, but we need to know how the institution’s problems are being addressed. In the case of the five additional managers, you can be sure many employees at St. Charles know who they are and what positions they held; it’s the public that’s being kept in the dark.

In a time of tremendous turmoil in health care as the Affordable Care Act is rolled out, residents need to have confidence that St. Charles is tackling its challenges wisely. We need to know we are safe when we entrust our lives to its care.