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Zipkin, Chamblin, Jellinek Lead Tahoe Forest Hospital Board Election

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After a tense and highly public campaign, Dr. Charles Zipkin, Dale Chamblin, and Dr. Greg Jellinek are currently the leading candidates for three seats on the Tahoe Forest Hospital District board in unofficial results. Thousands of ballots remain to be counted in both Nevada and Placer counties, raising the possibility that the tight race could be altered when official results are finalized Dec. 2.

Zipkin, the former director of Tahoe Forest Hospice and the current medical director of the Wellness Neighborhood for Tahoe Forest Hospital, led all candidates with 1,862 votes. Chamblin, the incumbent who was appointed to fill a partial term when Ken Cutler resigned from the board in early 2013, collected 1,705 votes. Dr. Greg Jellinek, a long-time plastic surgeon who ran in a slate with Mark Spohr and John Falk, came in third with 1,557 votes. Spohr is only 22 votes behind Jellinek with 1,535 votes.

Nevada County election officials say that 14,000 ballots remain uncounted across the county. Placer County also has 36,651 outstanding ballots, including vote-by-mail ballots that were dropped off at the polls on Election Day. The election must be certified by Dec. 2, and an election update by Nevada County is expected Nov. 12.

According to election results, the community is deeply divided over the future direction and current management of the hospital. Despite the apparent victory of Zipkin and Chamblin, hundreds more voters cast ballots for candidates that urged for a more affordable and accountable operation of the public hospital. In total, 5,718 voters cast ballots for either the slate of Dr. Greg Jellinek, Mark Spohr, and John Falk, or the candidacy of Ronda Brooks, a nurse who ran on a platform of change. In comparison, Zipkin, Chamblin, and Dr. Ned Hughes, who ran a campaign that leaned more toward the status quo, received a total of 5,046 votes.

The Tahoe Forest Hospital race was perhaps the most high-profile and impassioned election on the local ballot. One of the most controversial campaign tactics was the allegation that Spohr, Jellinek, and Falk would cause the maternity ward to close or the emergency room not to be open 24/7. Posts like this on Zipkin’s campaign Facebook page —“Don’t let them close obstetrics” — and Zipkin’s charge that the reform candidates wanted to take the hospital back to “horse and buggy” medicine set the tone of the contentious campaign.

Zipkin said he never alleged that the candidates purposefully wanted to close obstetrics, but that their intention to compete with Reno medical facilities on price would cause the hospital to lose money and could lead to closures of medical services.

“I viewed it as a real and present danger,” Zipkin said.

During a candidate forum on Oct. 8, Jellinek directly addressed the allegations, calling them completely inaccurate and saying that Zipkin and Chamblin “cheapen yourself and cheapened your campaign by making false assertions.”

For their part, Jellinek, Spohr, and Falk directly criticized the oversight of the hospital, saying that “the existing board has done a poor job of supervising the hospital administration. It has allowed administrative overhead to balloon to unreasonable amounts,” according to their website hospitalfix.org.

In a written response he distributed at election events, Chamblin responded to this claim, “While all these salaries may appear excessive in relation to other jobs in our local economy, it should be noted that these highly educated and trained individuals in this specialized hospital business are limited, and any efforts to replace them with competent personnel at rates of pay lower than the median would be unfeasible.”

If election results remain unchanged, Zipkin and Jellinek will join a board that has become deeply dysfunctional over the last two months. Disagreement has centered on potential conflict of interest violations by TFH CEO Robert Schapper, first reported in the July print edition of Moonshine Ink. The last hospital board meeting on Oct. 28 featured board member Roger Kahn standing up in public comment and accusing board president John Mohun of being manipulative and an obstructionist. Mohun, in turn, told the public that Kahn had threatened to assault him after a recent heated board discussion about potential reimbursement by the public hospital district of Schapper’s attorney’s fees associated with the conflict of interest investigation.

Chamblin said he is concerned with the in-fighting between board members and will focus on getting back to the “important mission of making Tahoe Forest Hospital the best mountain health care facility in the nation.”

“You get over it, you move on, and you don’t lose focus,” said Chamblin of his post-election mission.

Jellinek agreed that there needs to be peace on the board.

“I think we have to come to some reconciliation or we will be butting heads the next four years,” said Jellinek. “If I end up on the board, my very first job is to heal the rifts.” He also said he wants to do a top-to-bottom financial analysis of the hospital, using someone other than the district’s auditor.

Zipkin said he intends to be a collegial and collaborative board member, but also stated that he believes differences of opinion are valuable.

“Divergent opinions are important and are starting points for debate,” Zipkin said. “I think this kind of debate is a good thing. There is not only a place for it, it is encouraged.”

Zipkin also said he plans to give up his medical directorships at Tahoe Forest Hospital and will immediately stop invoicing the hospital district because of his status as an incoming board member.

If elected, Zipkin said he hopes to engage the public in community meetings outside of the regular board meetings.

Before the new board is in place, the current board is scheduled to discuss both the reimbursement of Schapper’s attorney’s fees and his bonus at a special board meeting on Nov. 18.

Check tfhd.com for an agenda and meeting time.

 
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November 9, 2017