SLAYTON?-?More than 60 people filled the Murray County Courthouse meeting room, spilling out into the lobby for the regular meeting of the Murray County Medical Center board of directors on Tuesday morning.
The board is composed of all sitting Murray County commissioners plus two persons selected from the community.
County residents came to comment and demand answers about physicians assistant Dan Woldt's lawsuit against the medical center and CEO Mel Snow and a spate of recent resignations of medical personnel.
The lawsuit filed by Woldt in May 2013 alleges MCMC and Snow engaged in conduct "aimed at denying (Woldt's) employment rights and protections granted to him under the law" and seeks damages in excess of $75,000.
As the meeting began, Murray County resident Dean Larson requested to be allowed to ask whether the medical center personnel were on the clock for the meeting.
Board Chairman Robert Moline said the board would proceed with a normal board meeting and would not take questions or comments.
"We are under legal representation and not allowed to answer," Moline said. "We're aware there's all kinds of information on why Dan Woldt is no longer employed and why others are leaving. I will make this commitment to you, we will hold a community meeting and answer your questions."
As the meeting proceeded, nurse practitioner Stacy Slettem, who recently resigned from MCMC, asked the board to hold an exit interview for her during the meeting amid cries from the crowd of "Let her speak!"
Slettem was one of four resignations reported by MCMC personnel director Nancy Andert at the meeting. According to Andert's report, two emergency medical technicians, one licensed practical nurse and one nurse practitioner resigned within the past month.
Though the MCMC board was not taking comments, several members of the community and employees of MCMC attended the meeting of the Murray County Board, which followed to take advantage of the scheduled public forum to express their views.
"It's frightening to me that the (MCMC) board won't acknowledge Stacy Slettem's years of service without a thank you and wish you well," said county resident Mike Stelter. "They just waved another great employee down the road."
Slettem had recently published a letter to the editor in the Murray County Wheel/Herald condemning the work environment at MCMC.
County resident Jeff Bose spoke out against the recent contract extension the board gave Snow.
"Last July, Mel Snow got a seven-year contract extension, and I find that very disturbing," Bose said. "That they'd extend the contract of someone who has a federal lawsuit pending."
Stelter went even further, accusing the board of not listing the contract extension on the board's agenda and accusing Chairman John Giese of having voted by proxy in his absence from the meeting.
"This board has neglected their duty," Stelter said. "We're losing people, and it's not by doing your job, it's by your letting a few people over there to control you. I respectfully call for your resignations."
Four MCMC nurses present spoke of resignations because of the work environment to the clapping of the attendees that remained.
Registered nurse Donna Thomson pleaded with the board to conduct exit interviews and do an employment survey.
"We just lost one yesterday, and we've got two more ready to go," Thomson said. "What are you going to do without nurses? Please listen to your community."
RN Sara Lewis said difficult working conditions began about a year ago and were getting worse.
"I love my job," Lewis said. "I just want it to stay above water. I'm very afraid. It's 100 times more difficult than it used to be. I just wish you guys would listen to us."
Avera employee Carol Lang, an osteopath specializing in family practice, worked for MCMC for 16 years before she requested to be transferred to Avera Marshall, effective last October. Lang said the working environment at MCMC was tense, and personnel were frequently overworked.
"I was Dan Woldt's supervisor for 14 years," Lang said. "I had no issues with him or any of the mid-level nursing staff."
Lang said her impression was that recent turnover in medical personnel was unusually high.
Snow defended the actions of the board and said the turnover was no lower than any other normal year.
"The board of directors and management team does an excellent job," Snow said. "I understand the community's frustration comes from not having answers, but we can't provide them at this time because it's part of an ongoing case under a federal judge. We have an excellent medical staff and if people decide to resign, that's because of their personal reasons. I know the medical staff supports the board and the administration."