By Deb Murphy
The Inyo County Grand Jury Report takes aim at both the Northern Inyo Hospital Board of Directors as well as Inyo County and the C.J. Roxane water bottling plant in Cartago, specifically arsenic seeping into the groundwater.
While more pages were devoted to Inyo’s Office of Education and the former Superintendent of Schools Dr. Terry McAteer, both came out much better than NIH and the arsenic issues.
The report on NIH is critical of former Chief Executive Officer Victoria Alexander-Lane but seems to put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the district’s board. “The Board had little control over their CEO and would not consider concerns of NIH staff or medical doctors. In addition, the BOD was unresponsive to citizen concerns and unprepared for dealing with issues at the hospital,” the report states.
The Grand Jury slammed the board for lack of training and an “understanding as to their role and responsibility.” Alexander-Lane was criticized for handling staff and citizen concerns, “as well as them personally in a very unprofessional manner and with distain.” The document describes the CEO’s style “when dealing with people and their concerns was to use intimidation and fear.”
The Jury attributes staff turnover, four-times greater during the former CEO’s 18-month tenure than the previous five years, to both the board and Alexander-Lane.
Dr. Kevin Flanigan went from acting to interim to official CEO of the district from fall 2015 to February 2016. It is unclear the actual dates of the report’s series of recommendations. Those recommendations stress training for the board members, more fair, appropriate and responsive relationships between the administration and staff, greater transparency, improved communication with employees and the community and a plan to improve morale within the hospital.
The report’s most scathing indictment of the board came in the final statement on community involvement which states “the community should strongly encourage candidates to run for the NIH board who understand the role the hospital plays as a community based institution.”
Next under the microscope—what the report describes as the county staff’s inaction and CG Roxane’s actions regarding a seeping arsenic pond on its Cartago bottling plant site.
The issue was fully discussed at a public meeting initiated by Fifth District Supervisor Matt Kingsley last March. When arsenic levels in the bottling company’s wells exceeded acceptable levels, the company began to filter out the arsenic and discharging it into the Arsenic Pond. The pond’s liner leaked sending arsenic into the groundwater. Consultants Geosyntec and Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board were brought in two years ago and began the process of determining the extent of the seepage and identifying mitigation and remediation. The arsenic is now trucked out of the area for disposal.
In 2011, according to the report, the Cartago Mutual Water Company “brought the arsenic issue to Inyo County staff.” The report goes on to state the county was not responsive to the company. Cartago sued CG Roxane; CG Roxane countersued.
The County was faulted for not initiating a California Environmental Quality Act/Environmental Impact Report when CG Roxane applied for and was given a grading permit for the discharge ponds in 1980. According to Environmental Health Director Marvin Moskowitz at the March meeting, his department should have received a transmittal slip from Public Works to make sure all the bases were covered. Moskowitz did a file review back to 1980 and found no transmittal slip.
According to the report, the County should have required an environmental impact study and been more responsive to community concerns prior to Lahontan’s involvement in the issue. The Grand Jury Report outlines all the things CG Roxane should have done, including obtaining a Hazardous Waste Discharge permit and developing a plan for water quality monitoring, required by Lahontan.
Basically, the Grand Jury recommends the County needs to never mess up the permitting process when potential impacts are apparent every again. The report also recommends the County assist “Cartago MWC in its lawsuit against CG Roxane.” The water bottling company also needs to be “held accountable for its actions,” according to the report.
All the entities including in the Grand Jury Report are asked to respond within 60 to 90 days.