Medical Chief Grief

| January 01, 2009

Eureka cardiologist David Ploss has resigned as chief of the medical staff of St. Joseph Health System-Humboldt County, leaving behind scant fresh clues as to the depth of his fed-upness with things -- but fed-up we do know he is.

Ploss was elected chief of staff in 2008, after having served as vice chief in 2007. He was expected to be elected for a second term, for 2009, at a medical staff meeting in early December. Instead, he resigned. A few weeks later, he told Journal contributer Carol Harrison that he'd lost confidence in the hospital's board of trustees.

"During the past year, the board has demonstrated an inability to consider open dialog or debate on substantive issues," Ploss said. "They have also operated without minimal standards for objectivity and transparency."

He elaborated just a bit: "Due to issues that were germane to my area of cardiology in particular, I felt that I could no longer function in my role as chief of staff with the equanimity that the job deserves and felt that it was necessary for me to resign."

Ploss' vice chief of staff, general surgeon Dr. Tom Rydz, will be the new chief of staff. In an interview last week, Rydz said Ploss was a good chief of staff and he was sorry he'd resigned. He seemed aware of conflicts between Ploss and the board, but said he didn't know specifics.

"It's a very time-consuming position," Rydz offered. "It takes a lot of energy, it's a big commitment and I think he's had some issues in his practice that just make it difficult for him to continue on like that."

The chief of staff is the final intermediary between the hospital administration and the board. It can be an uncomfortable position at times, and taxing, Rydz said. "I have done it at General Hospital before -- in fact I took over the job a year early there, also," he said. "It's not uncommon that the person who's supposed to do it for two years decides not to do it that long. It is a big job."

The chief of staff also sits on the board of trustees. Last week, when pressed for specifics on Ploss' resignation, the chairman of the board of trustees, Dennis Leonardi, had little to say.

"I really can't speculate," Leonardi said.

When told that Ploss had described the board as exhibiting "an inability to consider open dialog or debate on substantive issues," Leonardi objected.

"It's my opinion the board has had, in the last year or two, the most frank discussions ever," he said. "He has been a part of that dialog. Dr. Ploss has been a very positive and constructive board member, and he brings to the table great issues."

Leonardi said that a couple of years ago, when the hospital was really struggling financially, the board began reaching out more to the community for ideas and has since begun responding to the communities needs, "working quadruple time."

"A lot of positive things are happening," he said.

Ploss, in fact, was one of the two physician representatives on the task force formed in 2006 to help the hospital out of its financial doldrums.

"David's a quality cardiologist," Leonardi said. "He has a very demanding practice. I have a tremendous amount of respect for David. [But] if I thought we [the board] were inadequate, I'd be promoting change."

St. Joe's administration, meanwhile, had nothing much to say about Ploss' resignation. A statement provided by hospital spokesperson Courtney Hunt-Munther said:

"The Medical Staff is a self-governed body. St. Joseph Hospital does not have a say or a vote in Medical Staff elections, so it would be inappropriate for the hospital to speak on behalf of the medical staff or on behalf of a medical staff member."

Ploss will continue to serve on the medical executive committee, which he has been on for the last four years.

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