Just 13 months after he began the job, Phil Smith is out as CEO of the Tulare Local Health Care District (TLHCD). Smith was removed from the position by a unanimous vote of the board of which he was once a member at a meeting held Monday, December 12.
CEO Smith Released
Smith was hired in November 2021 after the departure of Sandra Ormonde. At the time of his hiring, Smith was serving as an appointed member of the TLHCD’s board of directors. The move to give Smith the CEO position, a situation constituents were told would not occur, caused questions about a possible conflict of interest. Those concerns were dismissed by the district’s directors, who said they had been assured the move did not present a clear conflict of financial interest for Smith.
Now that he’s out, Smith will receive biweekly payments from the district through May of 2023. In total, Smith will receive $61,000 in severance compensation, as well as a health insurance package.
According to the terms of the severance contract, Smith is bound by a non-disparagement clause that bars him from “speaking negatively” about his former employer. It also prohibits Smith from commenting negatively about the district online.
The clause in the contract appears to be a standard requirement and not out of the ordinary.
The Valley Voice was unable to contact either TLHCD Board President Kevin Northcraft or VP Mike Jamaica for comment about the reason for Smith’s departure before publication deadline.
Interim CEO & New Director Named
At the same meeting on December 12 that saw the formal end of Smith’s tenure with the TLHCD, Jevon Price, who won the election for the Area 3 seat in the November election, was sworn into office.
Price was also selected by his fellow directors to serve as the district’s treasurer and has taken a seat on the finance committee.
Contrary to reporting by other media outlets, Price was not involved in the decision to part ways with Smith as CEO.
“I was brought in after the decision was already made,” Price said.
He also had no hand in the decision to replace Smith in the interim with Randy Dodd, Adventist Health’s former president of its operations at the Tulare hospital. Dodd took the top spot at Adventist Tulare in November of 2018. He departed in May of 2020, with rumors reaching directors of the TLHCD he had been fired by Adventist.
At the time of Dodd’s departure from Adventist Health Central Valley Network, a spokesperson for Adventist said Dodd had left of his own accord to “pursue other executive opportunities.”
“They’re doing a reorganization. He (Dodd) was doing a great job here,” Northcraft said at the time of Dodd’s original departure. “I think all the hospitals in the country are having to reorganize in this pandemic.”
Adventist, because of financial losses during the COVID-19 pandemic, furloughed 1,000 of its 31,000 employees, including 40 in Tulare. Northcraft said the company had lost as much as $1 million at Adventist Tulare.
Price said he is unaware why Smith and the district parted ways.
“No one has sat and told me why Smith was exited,” Price said. “I find it interesting.”
Price Focused on Finance
The district’s newest director comes to the position with 15 years of experience in healthcare, including operational management. Price plans to use that experience to probe the district’s finances prior to his election.
“I think it’s good we have a brand new look at everything,” he said.
The change in leadership at the district has not changed Price’s plans to examine district finances in detail, despite it catching him by surprise.
“Everything is new for me,” Price said. “I wasn’t anticipating this (Smith’s departure) happening. I look forward to working with Randy in the interim.”
Recently, the district moved to put its public fitness facility, Evolutions, “under the same umbrella as the district” in terms of its bookkeeping. The move will standardize employee compensation, bringing it in line with other TLHCD operations, streamlining the district’s finances as a result.
Price emphasized he has no reason to suspect there are any irregularities in the district’s finances. While Price has been following the district’s business closely since mid-summer, he still feels a need for a clearer picture of TLHCD’s financial status.
“The main reason is the obvious, that is to get a full handle on the district,” he said. “Nothing has red-flagged.”
Praise for Dodd
When Dodd left Adventist in 2020, he received kind words for his performance from Northcraft and other TLHCD directors. He seems to be impressing the district’s newest director with how he’s handling the CEO job so far.
“It does seem like Randy is hitting the ground running,” Price said.
Price says he expects Dodd will want to make his own financial assessment of the district.
“Randy is, I assume, doing some digging on his own,” Price said.
While there has been no discussion of who will take the CEO position permanently, if Dodd gets the job it could raise concerns because of his 25-year career working for Adventist Health. The contract under which Adventist operates the Adventist Tulare facility is due for a renegotiation in 2024.
Should Dodd be at the helm when the time comes to reaffirm or end the district’s relationship with Adventist, it could give rise to concerns over a conflict of interest for the former long-time Adventist executive. That, however, is a worry for the future, one that may never materialize.
For now, Price sees no problem with an experienced former Adventist executive putting his lengthy experience to work for the TLHCD. He said he’ll reexamine the ethics of the situation should developments require it. For now, he’s comfortable with Dodd and eager to work with him.
“The plan is we’re going to be voting on a more permanent person,” Price said. “In the next few months, I don’t see it as much of a conflict. Ask me again in a few months about (Dodd) being a permanent member.”