The Iberia Medical Center’s Board of Commissioners regularly ends its meetings with an executive session to discuss strategic planning and personnel moves. But July’s meeting was a little different.
During the session, IMC Chief Executive Officer Parker Templeton tendered his resignation, effective after 90 days as required under his contract.
“It took me completely by surprise,” board member Lynn Minvielle said. “I knew he was aggravated, but I never knew he would let them get to him.”
The “them” in that statement refers to three board members — Frederick “Bozo” Metz, Ernest Wilson and David Benson — who have questioned Templeton’s leadership of the organization, despite metrics that show the continued growth at IMC.
During the executive session, several attendees confirmed that Templeton, in addition to tendering his resignation and thanking the board for the opportunity to serve, told the board that he hoped the malicious and juvenile behavior he has had to endure ends and that the new chief executive officer meets less resistance.
When asked later about Templeton’s comments, Metz said he was not only surprised by the resignation but insisted he had no clue why Templeton resigned.
“I didn’t see it coming,” Metz said. “I don’t know why he resigned. Maybe he has another job or something. I was as surprised as the other board members.”
This is not the first controversy that has arisen from the IMC board in the last year. Issues were raised last fall when board member Larry Nelson was up for reappointment. Two other physicians, José Mata and Benson, said their names had not been forwarded for consideration. That issue was resolved through, among other steps, a bill passed during the state’s legislative session to change the hospital district’s bylaws, allowing the hospital’s Medical Executive Committee to make its own appointments to its two seats on the board.
But Templeton’s resignation should not have been that surprising. While Metz has served on the board, other members and people associated with the hospital board have made it clear he worked behind the scenes to have board members supportive of Templeton removed, criticizing Templeton’s progress and spreading misinformation to IMC’s detriment.
In the past week, Templeton’s resignation has brought many of those actions to the surface. It also led to other board members contacting Metz to ask him to resign.
“No, I’m not going to resign,” Metz said. “(Board of Commissioners Chairman) Larry (Hensgens) had called one of the board members and asked me to resign. No, I only have five more months in my term. It don’t make no sense for me to resign.”
Metz’s term expires on Dec. 27. When asked if he planned to put his name up for reappointment, he was noncommittal.
“I don’t know,” he said.
The morning after
One of the steps taken to ease tensions after the appointment issues were raised last fall was to create a liaison committee composed of individuals from the IMC board, the hospital administration and the Iberia Parish Council.
During the liaison committee meeting 12 hours after Templeton tendered his letter of resignation, tempers flared as Metz was confronted over some of his public comments.
Committee members asked Metz about his comments at Thursday night’s meeting that a power outage occurred at the hospital 30 days prior to Tropical Storm Barry. He also was asked to defend comments he reportedly made to people in the public regarding the death of a patient who was evacuated from the hospital during Tropical Storm Barry as well as comments regarding Templeton’s use of a credit card to pay a bill from a hospital contractor.
“Who gets the points for that?” Metz asked, according to other attendees, referring to the issues regarding the illegal use of credit card points earned on a government credit card that led to one of the malfeasance counts against former Clerk of Court Michael Thibodeaux.
Metz told the meeting attendees New Iberia Mayor Pro Tem Dan Doerle told him about the death and the credit card payment. Doerle often has morning coffee with Metz and others.
“The credit card thing, I just told him (Metz) that they had tried to pay with a credit card,” Doerle said. “It was no big deal.”
As for the root of the evacuation death rumor, Doerle said he mentioned to Metz that someone had approached him in a restaurant and said they had a loved one who had been evacuated to the hospital in Crowley die after the storm.
“Bozo is a friend of mine who comes to drink coffee sometimes,” Doerle said. “Someone confronted me about a relative who had died, and I told him to call a board member. As for Bozo, I may have mentioned it to him.”
Officially, only one death was indirectly attributed to Tropical Storm Barry, that of a Florida man who drowned after being caught in the undertow created as the storm passed. When asked about the rumor of an evacuation death he was accused of spreading, Metz said it was “nothing.”
“No, no one died during the evacuation,” Metz said. “A woman called me and said her father had gotten transferred to Crowley. He died a week later.”
He also said the credit card issue came up because Doerle said he had done work for the hospital and was not able to run a credit card for payment.
“That was the deal where Dan Doerle did some work for the hospital and they tried to pay with a credit card,” Metz said. “He didn’t have a credit card reader, and they add on the 3-percent fee for a card. But that all got resolved. They sent him a check.”
The problem, according to other liaison committee members, is that Metz was spreading these stories as fact without informing the administration of any issues first or verifying the details.
“He is a hospital board member, and his word carries weight,” said Iberia Parish Council Chairman Paul G. Landry, one of the council’s representatives on the liaison committee. “He starts all these rumors when he should go to Parker or the administration instead of putting it out on the street. Parker ends up spending 70 or 80 percent of his day putting out these fires Bozo is starting instead of running the hospital.”
As for the blackout, Metz provided The Daily Iberian with the name of a woman who he said told him about the power outage. When contacted, the woman, who asked not to be identified, said she got the information second hand from another employee who said that when power went out twice overnight in either late May or June, there were delays in the generator power coming on.
Shane Myers, IMC’s chief operating officer, addressed that issue during the board’s meeting on July 25. He began his after-action report on Tropical Storm Barry, detailing the preventive maintenance and testing that had been done prior to the storm, including repairs to a transfer switch which was not functioning properly.
Before he could finish his report, Metz, Wilson and Benson took control of the discussion, demanding to know why the hospital’s emergency generators shut down during Barry, forcing the evacuation of patients from the hospital.
Even as Myers explained the specifics of what happened and tried to answer questions about the timeline of events, the trio’s sharp questions and body language showed they were not accepting the answers.
“I find it hard to believe this is the first time this has been brought up,” Benson said angrily.
The primary issue from the storm was a fuel pump that failed, causing one generator to run out of fuel. That generator had been supplying power to the second generator’s fuel pump. When the first generator went down, the second generator was soon also starved of fuel.
The problem which caused the delays in power being quickly switched a month earlier had been fixed prior to the storm as part of the hospital’s regular maintenance program. Technicians who found the fuel pump problems that caused the generators to fail during the storm said the pump’s failure was something that would not have been detected prior to its failure.
“They said it was a one in a million thing,” Myers said.
Minvielle, who suggested at the time that the hospital should get a backup battery-powered pump for future emergencies, said that even if there had been no issues prior to or during the storm the trio would have harped on something else.
“No matter what happens, they would find fault,” Minvielle said. “Even if everything ran perfectly, they would still find reasons to complain.”
Past issues resurfaced
On Monday, former IMC Board Chairman David Groner made a social media post attacking not only Metz but the Iberia Parish Council, specifically then-Council Chairman Ricky Gonsoulin, for helping to stack the IMC board with Metz-approved appointees.
“The reason for (Templeton’s) departure is the politics of the Iberia Parish Council (that) allowed Bozo Metz to dictate appointments to the board and then make governing the hospital in a professional manner impossible,” Groner wrote. “The chairman of the Iberia Parish Council when all of this started was Ricky Gonsoulin, who sold his soul to Bozo Metz so that he could get Bozo to help him campaign for state representative.”
Groner was replaced on the board in 2016 when Guy Feuer, an optometrist, was put forward for his seat. Another candidate, former Iberia Parish Councilman Barry Verret, withdrew his candidacy for the position. In a rare parish council appearance, Metz sat next to Feuer as the council deadlocked on four ballots before District 13 Councilman Marty Trahan flipped his vote, breaking the tie.
Gonsoulin said Groner’s accusations were misplaced.
“When Groner came up for reappointment, I looked at the makeup of the board,” Gonsoulin said. “Guy had run a 100-person clinic in New Orleans. We already had an attorney on the board, and I thought Feuer brought another skill set.”
Although Gonsoulin voted against Groner, both he and Metz denied any support or money changed hands over the vote.
“No,” Metz said. “Me and Ricky, we got nothing like that. I don’t know where David got that from. No, there’s no way that played any part in this.”
A month later, however, Feuer was ineligible to serve on the board after moving out of the parish.
“They knew when they put him up to run that he had purchased a house in Lafayette and that he had his house on the market,” Groner said. “This was calculated to remove me from the board and replace me with someone on their side.”
Feuer was replaced in April 2017, when Brock Romero joined the board.
When Benson was voted onto the board in January, Gonsoulin voted for the other candidate, Mata. But Groner said that did not belie his accusation.
“They knew they had the votes for Benson,” Groner said. “It didn’t matter which way Gonsoulin voted on that.”
The council approved Benson against the recommendation of the hospital’s Medical Executive Committee in a 9-4 vote, with Trahan, who had cast the deciding vote against Groner two years prior, abstaining.
This is not the first time there has been conflict between the board, the council and the hospital administration.
A similar perfect storm of issues arose in 1994. Part of the solution then was the creation of a liaison committee, a step that the parties revived after the council’s rejection of Mata in January.
That committee was instrumental in helping craft the changes to the hospital district’s bylaws that the state legislature passed earlier this year. One key change is that the IMC Medical Executive Committee is now the appointing authority for its two representatives on the hospital board. Previously, as in the Benson-Mata case, the MEC made a recommendation which the council then voted on. Now the MEC appoints, with the council ratifying the appointment.
The other change that came out of the 1994 unrest was a contract third-party management firm. That company, HealthTec, provided management services, including a CEO, for years.
It was not, however, a perfect solution, according to Minvielle.
“I don’t know how many CEOs we had who would come here, fly in on Monday, then fly out on Friday,” Minvielle said. “They were more worried about their stock portfolio than the hospital. Here we had a local guy who cares about the community and lives here and they run him off.”
The IMC board has called a special meeting for Tuesday night to address the search for a new CEO. Hensgens said most of the meeting will probably be held in executive session because it involves strategy and personnel matters.
The board also has to decide how it will proceed in the next few months. Under the agreement struck to rewrite the bylaws, the board agreed that the medical staff seat Benson currently holds would be vacated on Nov. 23, with Benson moving to the at-large seat attorney Burton Cestia currently holds.
Benson, however, announced that he was taking a leave of absence effective June 25 and closing his urology practice. His retirement is effective on Aug. 30. That leaves him as a non-physician holding a medical staff seat on the board for about three months. Legal Counsel Andy Shealy said that the bylaws under which Benson was appointed, however, did not specifically stipulate that medical staff board members had to be in good standing with the hospital in order to serve out their terms.
The rewritten bylaws now include that provision.
It also is not clear what steps the parish council can, or should, take to remove board members. In the parish’s home rule charter, board members serve “at the pleasure of the appointing authority,” which in this case is the parish council. That will become muddled in the future, when the MEC will make its appointments to the board rather than the council.
According to several attendees at the July 26 liaison committee meeting, Wilson said that he regretted the conflicts that had been stirred and said that if anyone had made those kinds of statements they should be removed from the board.
Multiple calls to Wilson for comment for this story were not returned.
For his part, Minvielle said it is up to the IMC board’s members to turn things around.
“They need to be proud to be on the board,” Minvielle said. “If you are on the board, you’re an ambassador for our hospital. Right now, we have three board members who just bash and never ever say one positive thing.”