By COLIN STAUB
All six members of the Bay Area Health District board of directors in Coos County are facing a recall effort supported by United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 555 and the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA).
The Bay Area Health District oversees Bay Area Hospital, a publicly-owned health facility in Coos Bay. It’s a special service district covering about 30,000 households across Coos County, with at-large board members elected by district residents.
The recall campaign began collecting signatures in late July and has until Oct. 18 to turn in enough signatures to get a recall on the ballot in a special election. Supporters are collecting signatures to simultaneously remove all six board members – Thomas McAndrew, Mark Sheldon, Donna Rabin, Barbara Taylor, Troy Cribbins and Carma Erickson-Hurt.
The recall launched in response to recent decisions by the board. In May, the board moved to close the hospital’s highly utilized adult psychiatric unit. The board said the cost of temporary labor contributed to the decision. The closure decision spurred community outrage. ONA and UFCW members showed up to board meetings to voice opposition to the closure of the only adult psychiatric unit in the area. Their efforts helped secure grant funding, and the board reversed course, keeping the mental health unit open.
“That was an instance where the need was so great and so apparent,” said Kevin Mealy, spokesperson for ONA. “It was really shocking to nurses that the directors and the administrators were moving to shut down something that was already full, and whose importance was only going to grow as we work our way out of COVID.”
There were other signs of poor decision-making. In May, board members hired a new chief operating officer, only to fire him days later when they learned he had been convicted of and served jail time for defrauding health care companies in the past. UFCW spokesperson Miles Eshaia says a simple Google search would have revealed the previous conviction and that it only came to light when a hospital worker researched the executive online.
ONA’s support for the recall also stems from nurses’ recent contract negotiations with management. Bargaining went on for more than 300 days, during which management (represented by anti-union law firm Bullard Law) repeatedly tried to go around the union and deal directly with workers, Mealy says. The hospital in July signed an Employment Relations Board consent order admitting it unilaterally implemented new contract provisions even after nurses voted twice to reject that proposal.
Mealy says bargaining ended with a good contract for nurses, but that management displayed a basic lack of understanding of federal labor law.
Mike Selvaggio, a lobbyist for UFCW who’s working on the campaign, said in mid-September supporters had collected between 75% and 80% of the roughly 2,800 signatures needed for each board member’s recall to move forward.