Hospital trustee brought handcuffs to the job

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You wouldn’t have an employee of PepsiCo shaping policy for Coca-Cola.

A player for the Green Bay Packers would not be welcome in Chicago Bears front office strategy sessions.

Why, then, should a person who works for a direct competitor of Kootenai Health be allowed to serve as a trustee on its board?

Why would the person even want to?

Cindy Clark is a registered nurse who lives in Post Falls and works across the Washington state line for MultiCare Health System. In May, she was elected to the Kootenai Hospital District board.

Clark’s employer owns Deaconess in Spokane and Valley Hospital in Spokane Valley. As The Press reported a year ago, MultiCare is also in the process of acquiring Northwest Specialty Hospital in Post Falls. Privately owned Northwest Specialty is also a direct competitor to Kootenai Health.

There are a couple of disturbing layers to this story.

Clark and fellow nurse Liz Godbehere both won election to the board in May. They campaigned on the platform of bringing nurse representation to the Kootenai Health board. Press editors have gone through the nurses’ campaign materials, including a Facebook video with more than 2,500 views in its first 24 hours. In these materials, we found no mention from Clark that she works for a direct competitor of Kootenai Health. How many of the 2,455 Kootenai County citizens who voted for Clark — the leading vote-getter — knew her paychecks were signed by an enterprise that might have designs on owning the community’s hospital?

Even if one could justify Clark’s presence on the board as a necessity to give nurses greater representation in the decision-making process of North Idaho’s largest employer, it’s impossible to see how she could be effective. Because of her obvious conflict of interest, Clark will be forced to recuse herself from many meaningful board discussions and decisions. She might as well bring a self-made gag and handcuffs to each meeting.

Although she was duly elected, Clark’s presence on the hospital board is wrong by every conscientious measure. Part of that is the Idaho Legislature’s fault; the minuscule requirements that allowed her to be elected must be changed.

Part of the fault, though, is hers. Knowing that her conflict would be exposed, what could her motives have been? What role if any does her union activism play? How could she think she would advance the Kootenai Health agenda amid some of the nation’s most complex regulations and fiercest competition when she is being paid by the competition?

The answer is she can’t.

The right thing for Clark to do is to quit her job with a direct competitor or resign her seat on the local hospital board. An ugly, protracted battle to isolate or even remove her wouldn’t benefit Clark or the organization she pledged to help.

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