Letter: Response from Marc Johnson regarding NBHD

The Headlight Herald and North Coast Citizen recently published a generally confusing and often-incorrect article regarding the Nehalem Bay Health District (NBHD). For the sake of clarification, as a new member of the board of the district, I want to respond to some of the most egregious inaccuracies and misinformation contained in the piece.
The article stated, with no attribution, that the old Wheeler hospital “has been deemed by the state of Oregon unsafe. Riddled with asbestos…” The first part of this statement is untrue. No state agency has deemed the building unsafe. The building is structurally sound, and there are several businesses that currently occupy space and offices within the building.
The reference to asbestos is out of context and more than a bit sensational. “Riddled” may leave the impression that there is a danger of asbestos exposure in the building. This is not so.
Many older buildings in Oregon, including public school buildings, contain asbestos materials, which pose no harm unless something is done to disturb these materials. No materials containing asbestos are being disturbed, nor will be disturbed, unless and until it is determined that the building must be demolished. At that time all necessary and regulatory precautions will be taken in accordance with safe handling and disposal of asbestos.
The article was also in error regarding a demolition date for the old hospital. No date has been established for demolition. If, and when, demolition is required, that decision will be made by the district board, and only after full public discussion.
The article also made reference to a request by the Rinehart Clinic to modify the terms of its existing lease with the district. The board has not considered any request to modify the lease. The district currently lacks a long-term strategic plan and making decisions in the absence of such a plan, including decisions about leases or building demolitions would, I believe, be unwise and a disservice to the citizens of the district and those who lease facilities from the district. The current board is, I believe, committed to long-term planning and to consulting the district’s residents before acting. The community’s participation in the business and development of the health district is vital.
The district, of course, owns and operates through an agreement with a manger the Nehalem Valley Care Center, the only facility of its kind in Tillamook County, which provides critical services to many local residents.
It is important to understand that editor Brian Cameron never spoke to a current NBHD board member as he prepared his article. Rather he granted “out of privacy concerns” anonymity to former board members who resigned en masse, and with no explanation, some weeks ago. Mr. Cameron poised one important question in his article, but then made no apparent attempt to answer it: “Why would three elected officials unexpectedly resign,” he wondered before concluding, “the answer still may be unknown.”
Truth be told, four different members of the board resigned over the course of the last couple of months and none has addressed publicly the reasons for the resignations.
Here is what I know. The district conducted a public meeting in April at the Pine Grove Community House, at which time it was disclosed that the board was close to making a decision to first mothball and then demolish the old Wheeler hospital. The suggestion was surprising and confusing to many in attendance. When pressed by several citizens in attendance the board offered little in the way of documentation on which to base a decision that very likely would eliminate the district’s reserve funds. It may well turn out that the old hospital, built in the 1950s, will eventually need to be torn down, but not before there is extensive public discussion, engineering evaluation, consideration of future use of the site and a full understanding of the potential cost.
Meanwhile, the May election saw an incumbent member of the board, Ted Weissbach, defeated, and at about the same time the district’s then-general manager, David Godsey, served notice he was going to soon retire. The board determined in this post-election environment, and after numerous questions had been raised about plans related to the old hospital, that it would appoint a member of the board, Jennifer Angelus, to the paid, part-time CEO position and then replace her on the board by appointing Mr. Weissbach, the individual who had lost re-election just a few weeks earlier.
Objections were raised by members of the public to these actions, which were undertaken without any sort of public process. In light of the objections, the board ultimately reversed course and sought applications from members of the community who would be interested in filling the vacant board position. Three local residents applied, as did the former and defeated board member. The board, without interviewing or even discussing the three other candidates, moved ahead in a 3-to-1 vote with its decision to appoint Mr. Weissbach.
The board subsequently hired a new general manager – Jeff Slamal – after Ms. Angelus withdrew from consideration. Mr. Slamal was barely on the job before his predecessor tragically died. After the July 2017 board meeting, three of the five members of the board abruptly, and with no explanation, resigned.
Under Oregon law the board lacked a quorum to conduct business, and as the law proscribes Tillamook County Commissioners appointed one member – that would be me – in order that he board could have a quorum and conduct even routine business. The board currently is accepting applications for two additional members.