Infighting erupts at Memorial commission

The chairman of the Memorial Health System citizens’ commission has come under fire for going too far in trying to control board discussions.

Steve Hyde, according to board members, requires them to submit for his approval any questions they want to pose to Memorial executives.

And he alone decides whether their inquiry is worth pursuing, they said.

At least one member of the board also believes Hyde is keeping information from the rest of the commission.

“He has failed to consistently keep us informed on information he has received, and he is trying to lead and facilitate at the same time,” commission member Bill Murray complained in a recent email to a fellow board member suggesting that Hyde be replaced as chairman.

Hyde, a health care industry consultant, said he was unaware of the complaints or that dissension was brewing on the board. He declined to comment on what steps he might take to address the problem.

The emails were obtained by the Business Journal under the state’s open-records law.

The commission is working to develop recommendations to the Colorado Springs City Council about the municipal hospital’s future. More specifically, it is exploring whether the city should sell the hospital, maintain its current structure or to come up with a different governance model.

The panel plans to make its recommendations by December. If the board recommends the city should sell the hospital, the issue would be put before voters in the April 2011 election.

Murray, a retired Army intelligence officer, said he felt “stymied” by Hyde’s insistence that all requests for information be vetted through him. He said Hyde was chosen as chairman at the first commission meeting — before people knew each other and their backgrounds.

“I’ve found that when you choose someone that early on, the selection isn’t always the best — or the wisest,” he said. “He said he wouldn’t be the gatekeeper for information, but when I asked for specifics for a baseline, his attitude was, ‘Prove you need it.’”

For now, Murray said he found a way to work around Hyde.

“There are always other ways to get information,” he said. “We need a baseline and we need a copy of (Memorial Health System’s) strategic plan. So I’m working with the co-chairs (Martha Barton and Bob Lally) instead.”

Murray said he was especially upset by the circumstances because he was “promised by (the) city council that I would be able to do the research I deemed necessary.”

He has decided to continue to try to work within the constraints of the committee, and said he won’t push for any leadership changes at this time.

“It was initially frustrating,” he said. “And I had to figure out where people are coming from. I have no agenda; I just moved to town. I’m a citizen, and I take this very personally for the rest of the citizens.”

The relationship between the two has gotten so tense that Murray said Hyde at one point threatened to get “city council to make sure I conformed.”

Commission member Jay Patel, vice president of development at the Colorado Springs Independent newspaper, termed the problems typical “growing pains.”

“We all had to get used to working together, and this was just two alpha males competing.” he said. “Steve had to learn that this isn’t the Hyde Commission; it’s the Memorial Commission. We have to work together.”

Patel said he got involved in the dispute in an attempt to make sure the commission’s work flowed smoothly. As chairman of the commission’s financial impact committee, he works with Hyde regularly, he said.

“We’re all a little nervous about what we’ve been asked to do,” he said. “And we’re not always going to agree. Who says we have to? It’s going to get contentious, but we’re all there to do the right thing.”

Murray said the situation worsened after he discovered that Hyde failed to inform the commission for weeks after he had been contacted by Community Health System, a nationwide hospital system that is interesting in buying Memorial.

Ken King, vice president of acquisitions at CHS, contacted Hyde in mid-March via email and by phone to suggest they meet.

In the emails, King not only asked Hyde to dinner here, but also invited him to dinner in Nashville and to tour the company’s headquarters. Hyde declined the Nashville invitation, but agreed to meet with King in Colorado Springs.

He informed his fellow commissioners of the exchange only after Murray asked him about it.

“Steve did, in fact, receive a promotional package addressed to him that he did not share with the commissioners,” Murray said in an email to fellow commission members.

“As chairman, it is incumbent upon him to approach this potential conflict of interest with transparency and voluntary disclosure. A proper response to the third party would have been that he was unavailable to discuss these subjects because he is privy to discussions on the future of the MH entity.”

Martha Barton, co-chair of the commission, also was upset by Hyde’s meeting with CHS.

“I do not feel it appropriate,” she said in an email to fellow board members. “This company’s stated interest is strong enough that he (King) is coming to CS to learn more specifics about the system.

“I feel that any contact by individual commissioners holds a likely appearance of impropriety. … Whether or not this meeting would be judged legal does not seem relevant to me. It is my opinion that the potential perception of such a meeting is most important.”

Murray said members of the commission should not have had to ask Hyde about CHS, and that Hyde should have let everyone know on his own.

Even after Murray raised the issue, Hyde was reluctant to identify the potential suitor, saying only that he received a promotional package from a “proprietary hospital company.”

A week later, he sent an email on the matter to fellow commissioners.

“In the future,” Hyde wrote. “It would be terrific if you would call me directly with your concerns or possible misunderstandings before injecting them into the rumor circuit.”

Citizens’ commissions frequently have problems when it comes to the flow of information, said Donald Klingner, a professor of public administration at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

“And this is a highly politically charged issue, you have health care, you have money,” he said. “I can understand wanting to control the flow outward – you want to keep a lid on things until you make a recommendation – but not controlling information inside the commission itself.”