Volunteers look for answers after dismissal of...
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Nov 01, 2012  |  Vote 0    0

Volunteers look for answers after dismissal of hospice executive director

Stoney Creek News

By Abigail Cukier, News Staff

Questions remain regarding the dismissal of the Dr. Bob Kemp Centre for Hospice Palliative Care's longtime executive director. But volunteers seemed satisfied with the response from the board of directors at the annual general meeting Oct. 25.

More than the usual number of board members and volunteers turned out at the AGM with questions regarding the dismissal of Beth Ellis.

Ellis had been with the hospice since 1996 and spearheaded the long campaign for, and eventual construction of, the residential hospice on Stone Church Road.

Director of development Jan Nichols said Ellis was let go about four months ago, but details cannot be discussed due to confidentiality agreements.

Two board of directors members have since resigned. Juanita Gledhill left due to having work commitments out of town, which meant she was unable to attend meetings.

Past chair Mark Cripps resigned, saying he had "trouble reconciling the decision" and was due to retire from the board next year anyway.

"Changes in my life have meant I couldn't commit to the board the way I did before. I thought it would be good for the board to  have the chance to bring in new blood," Cripps said. "I wish them all the best going forward. I will always remain a strong supporter of the hospice"

Maureen Russell, the hospice's director of spiritual care, who had been with the organization for 11 years, also resigned.

Many volunteers wanted to know the reasons behind the dismissal and complained about the lack of communication surrounding the situation.

"The hospice talks about to person-centred care. It doesn't seem person-centred when you march someone out the door," said a volunteer near the beginning of the meeting. He also inquired about the dismissal process.

Board chair Joan Hutcheson assured attendees that this was "not decided overnight" and that an external human resources consultant was involved.

"This was a difficult situation," Hutcheson said. "We tried to treat the individuals involved with dignity and with communication."

She added that it was difficult to communicate with more than 200 volunteers.

When the decision was made, Hutcheson said the board talked to Ellis and then immediately met with all on-duty staff. She said the executive committee met with staff "day or night" to catch workers coming on duty during all shifts.

A letter was also sent to all volunteers and stakeholders informing them of the decision. After that, the board of directors met with volunteers.

As for the details, Hutcheson said, "All parties received legal advice and we are limited in what we can discuss because this is a personnel matter."

Ellis and the hospice are negotiating a severance package.

Volunteer Margaret Janack suggested having a liaison on the board of directors to help build trust and strengthen communication. After the meeting, volunteers and members of the board of directors said they liked this idea.

Joe Kielb, a fundraising volunteer, said the position would help avoid the "scuttlebutt" like what happened in the wake of Ellis' dismissal.

Volunteers and board members, who did not wish to be named, said they were satisified with the meeting.

"I am most concerned with what goes on in there and helping the clients," said one volunteer, pointing to the residential wing of the hospice.

Currently, Joan Andrews is serving as interim executive director. Andrews is a registered nurse who fills in for the hospice's director of residential care when she is absent and was the first chair of the hospice board.

Hutcheson said interviews for the position should be finished this week. She also assured volunteers that hospice clients and family members are receiving support despite the spiritual director's absence.

Three counsellors are working on a part-time basis to fill the position.

"I am impressed by the transparency, honesty and courage of the people who raised questions tonight and the way the chair handled them without getting defensive," said attendee Darrel Skidmore during the meeting. "I walk away feeling positive that staff are appreciated and volunteers are appreciated."

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