A Challenge to the BIRHC Board
On July 15th the Beaver Island Rural Health Center Board met
at the St. James Township Hall to conduct its regularly-scheduled
meeting. It was apparent from the 90 people in attendance that
there was much interest in one matter in particular: the non-renewal
of Susan Meis's contract.
The non-renewal was on the agenda as item 6Ai, but the audience
did not want to sit through two hours of normal business before
expressing its concern. As the financial report was unfurled voices
were heard asking that 6Ai be moved up. The Board resisted until
the fire code was brought up. Moving the meeting was considered,
but no other place was available. In the pithy repartee that followed,
one Board member spoke without thinking: We didn't ask you
to come; you invited yourselves. The response was an instantaneous
blend of anger and refutation, with more than one person reminding
the speaker that when questions about policy were brought up at
a special meeting called for another purpose, the public had been
specifically invited to attend regular meetings.
Following the uproar over this gaffe the Board consented to turn
to the non-renewal. A sheet of paper was circulated: those who
wanted to speak had to sign to get two minutes of remarks. It
quickly became apparent that the people in the audience felt a
great and grave injustice had been done as person after person
testified that Susan Meis's availability as a health care provider
was an important part of their ability to enjoy their time on
Beaver Island, each accolade producing a round of spontaneous
Most of the comments cited examples of Susan's excellent diagnostic
and treatment skills. She was said to be hard-working, friendly,
and caring. Susan was always very professional. Susan
corrected the doctor's incorrect diagnosis. Susan
is the only person who helped me.
She was also said to have a feisty attitude at times: She
is a rose. She has thorns. Most of us are weeds. She
gives as well as she getswhich is why I like her.
It was hoped that her independence and lack of political savvy
was not the root cause of her non-renewal.
Other comments revealed a dissatisfaction with the Board's attitude
and behavior, which was perceived to be unconcerned about their
feelings. Speakers wanted to know if the Board had violated the
Open Meetings Act in deciding Susan's future. Lingering disapproval
of the Transition Manager's salary and the Board's tabling of
an application for Board membership were also factors in the level
Although the Board cited confidentiality requirements, there
were repeated questions of what she had done to deserve non-renewal.
The Board stated that it had to make decisions for the good of
the BIRHC. President Connie Wojan said that she had been very
impressed with how Susan had cared for her mother in the last
year of her life, but could not convince the audience to trust
the Board's decision without knowing why. So reluctantly she said
that Susan was not a team player, and cited an example.
pparently pressed by the staff, Susan, the senior employee, demanded
a meeting with Connie to air grievances about the Transition Manager.
This threatened to undue the efforts the Board had been making
to distance itself from the daily operation of the BIRHC, and
was the culmination to a pattern of unprofessional behavior.
Some of the mechanics of the non-renewal were revealed. It seemed
the Transition Manager campaigned for this, talking to small groups
of Board members until the necessary mandate was achieved.
EMS representative to the Board (and Board member) Gerald LaFreniere
returned from an emergency and asked whether Susan had a just
cause clause in her contract, or should have. Gauging the public
sentiment, he moved that the Board reconsider. Paul Nelson said
that he wished they had taken more time to resolve the conflict,
and yet no member of the Board was willing to second Gerald's
motion. Don Spencer defended the hiring of Arlene, stating that
both Township supervisors had grown frustrated with the Medical
Center not having a manager. Further, he said, when State inspectors
looked over the operation of the Med Center they questioned whether
such haphazard methods would be able to cope with the expanded
operation that was anticipated in the new facility. While all
the problems had not yet been corrected, he added, great progress
had been made. To someone who cited a bill that was still in error,
he explained that some accounts required up to 40 hours to straighten
The audience was far from satisfied. Its grumbling became angrier
and more vocal. Connie Wojan had done a good job of keeping control,
but she began to wilt under the continuing vituperation. She cited
the constant workload she has maintained, doing such things as
scrubbing the urinals in the Hall so the BIRHC could raise another
$1,200 and sitting in the sweltering sun in McDonough's parking
lot to sell chances on the truck. She was so harried by the audience's
aggressive attitude that she wanted to quit, she said, but she
knew better than to make such an important decision in the heat
of the moment. But she was too upset and exhausted to continueshe
had also chaired an early meeting with Bob Tambolini on developing
a capital campaign to support the new facility. The Board decided
no progress was likely to be made, and the meeting, after 2 ½
hours, was adjourned.
The Real Beacon:
Search the Beaver Beacon Web Site & Archive: