Health board chief called ‘incompetent’

Board to meet in closed session next month

CHEBOYGAN — A dissatisfied employee on Tuesday publicly accused District Health Department No. 4 leadership of being “incompetent” and mistreating employees.

Lauren Krueger, who identified herself as a Health Department nurse practitioner, told the county commissioners serving on the Health Department board she was leaving the agency because of what she said is the department’s poor workplace environment.

Krueger told commissioners she refuses to be affiliated with an organization “that treats their employees with such disrespect and conducts their management in such a way.” She did not detail any specific actions by department leaders that made her feel that way.

Krueger claimed staff brought concerns to commissioners privately in August 2018, but those concerns have not been addressed. She said other staffers asked her to write a letter to commissioners addressing those concerns, but her attorney advised her not to submit the letter to the board at this time. She said she will submit the letter to commissioners when she is able.

Health Officer Denise Byran, the chief executive of the department serving Alpena, Presque Isle, Montmorency and Cheboygan counties, told commissioners it wasn’t true that she had done nothing to address the problems. Bryan said she has a successful track record working in public health for 25 years and believes the agency was “fractured “and “had problems” before she was employed there.

“I believe, when you’re hired in to bring change, it is disruptive and it isn’t always accepted,” she said, later adding that there could be an improvement in the management team.

The board took no action on Tuesday, instead agreeing to continue the discussion in closed session next month.

In her public comments at Tuesday’s health board meeting, Krueger said 27 employees that have left or announced their departure from the Health Department since February 2017. She said four of those 27 employees were retiring.

When Cheboygan County Commissioner Michael Newman asked Krueger to indicate which staff members she was specifically referring to in her allegations, she named Bryan, Personal Health Nursing Director Karen Nowicki-Compeau, Personal Health Supervisor Leah Werth, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Matt Radocy, and Environmental Health Director Scott Smith.

Board Chairman Bert LaFleche appeared angry that Krueger was listing names.

“Hey Michael,” LaFleche said to Newman, “we’re not going to mention names in this, and you shouldn’t have asked any questions because it’s public comment, so you don’t ask any questions.”

Newman apologized to the chairman.

Newman said that, last year, he and Alpena County Commissioner Bob Adrian — who was not at Tuesday’s meeting — met with Bryan to discuss issues with the department’s employees. He said they had suggested things like leadership classes and they all agreed everyone would benefit from it.

“Since that time, nothing has changed,” Newman said. “The employees are still in unrest, and, like our guest here said, 27 out of probably 48 employees have already quit or retired. There’s a reason for this, and I think as county commissioners and board members in District No. 4, we have an obligation to rectify this, and I think we need a little input as to what has to be done.”

He said such problems usually start at the top and works their way down.

Bryan also said an open meeting isn’t the place to go one-by-one through the department’s management team. She said staff has never come directly to her with the issues they seem to be sharing with the Health Department board.

Bryan said she is willing to look at the issues and is dedicated to finding a solution. She said there needs to be a listening session from staff as to what the issues are and then she needs to go back to staff and explain the circumstances.

“But I don’t want to have my reputation tarnished in open meeting, nor do I want it to become a lose-lose where it’s a free-for-all of discussion,” she said. “I would like to have a methodology that looks at the agency’s issues and then we can have some agreement going forward.”

Bryan said she has focused on what she has been able to control. There has been leadership and conflict-resolution training for all staff and she has added an employee newsletter and a staff advisory committee.

Bryan refused to comment further on the matter.

Alpena County Commissioner Ronald McDonald told LaFleche that he did not like the way the conversation was going and asked commissioners to bring it before the board at the next board meeting, so it could be discussed behind closed doors.

McDonald pointed out that a reporter was listening to the conversation on Tuesday and said they wouldn’t have to be careful about what they say at a future meeting because it would be behind closed doors.

The Michigan Open Meetings Act allows personnel matters to be discussed in closed session only if the employee being discussed requests the closed session.

The board voted 6-0 to continue the discussion behind closed doors during the next meeting, which is scheduled for Sept. 17 in Hillman.

In addition to Adrian, Presque Isle County Commissioner Carl Altman was absent Tuesday.

The board adjourned immediately following the discussion.

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.

In other business

The District Health Department No. 4 board on Tuesday also:

∫ voted 6-0 to approve a resolution recognizing that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, have created a public health crisis, supporting the continuation of the state’s coordinated response to address ongoing site investigations and proactively lead the state in dealing with PFAS, and recognizing that resources must be provided locally to residents and veterans to address their PFAS concerns. The board had delayed a vote on the resolution for several months to allow for ongoing discussion of the issue.