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Health department, ‘period of tumult’

San Juan Basin Health Department hopes to have an interim executive director in place by the end of this week, following the departure of Leon Vinci in March.

Contingent upon finalizing the arrangement with the entire board, Patsy Ford, a longtime employee of SJBHD and director of personal health services, will serve as interim executive director, said Bob Ledger, SJBHD board chair, in a Wednesday interview.

A meeting was to take place Wednesday afternoon between Ledger and Archuleta County Administrator Greg Schulte (also on the SJBHD board) to discuss the scope of responsibility for the interim director.

Former executive director Vinci’s employment was terminated by the SJBHD board of directors in a meeting on March 10, Ledger said.

Ledger characterized the termination in a Wednesday interview as a “difference in opinion with respect to management style.”

Vinci is involved in a Johnson County, Kan. investigation into his prior employment — an investigation that revealed to the SJBHD board information they found, “troubling and unsettling,” Ledger said, without providing more detail.

Vinci’s termination is also triggering a more in-depth audit of the entity’s financials, Ledger said, adding the move was the choice of SJBHD board.

“In light of the issues with Mr. Vinci,” Ledger said the board decided to have their independent auditor check for “irregularities” related to Vinci’s time as executive director since their yearly audit was already scheduled to begin this month.

Ledger added that he has no “inklings” that anything will appear in the audit.

“The truth is, (Vinci) didn’t have a lot of hands-on responsibility” with transactions, said Brad Cochennet, CEO of the Pagosa Springs Medical Center and SJBHD board and audit committee member.

The entity’s financials, however, have created another issue in light of Vinci’s termination.

The original budget prepared for 2011 included program changes and operational assumptions by Vinci, Cochennet said, and was anticipated to cause a budget deficit of $180,000, which would be taken out of the SJBHD reserves.

“With him not there, there really isn’t anybody there to execute those circumstances,” Cochennet said.

With those budget assumptions not carried out, the budget deficit is expected to double, with the full amount still slated to be taken from reserve coffers.

While Cochennet said he hadn’t looked at the loss of Vinci’s salary as a form of cost savings, there would likely be some savings there.

Ledger, however, anticipates that any savings would be inconsequential due to the money likely to be spent in recruiting and hiring a new manager.

Karin Kohake, board member and Archuleta County special projects manager, along with fellow SJBHD board member and staff member Shere Byrd, are working to retain a new executive director.

Kohake said the position is being advertised regionally in The SUN, The Durango Herald and on a few public health-related websites as of last week, with five applicants stepping forward as of Wednesday morning.

In May, the board will convene a search committee consisting of two board members, two staff members and one individual not affiliated with the department to pare down and interview applicants until a new director is chosen, Kohake said.

“This has been a very difficult period for the department and the board has experienced some frustration in this exercise, as have the employees,” Ledger said, adding the employees have continued to work well through the “period of tumult.”

randi@pagosasun.com

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