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Major Surgery


Published August 7, 2002 at 4:00 a.m.

Ladies and gentlemen, there’s been a lot of water over the dam since last week’s edition hit the street. So, first, let’s do a little catching up.

As Seven Days hit the newsstands last Wednesday, the Fletcher Allen Health Care (FAHC) board of “trusted” trustees was meeting behind closed doors at the Sheraton. Hospital CEO Bill Boettcher was present. In fact, he was spotted studiously reading a fresh copy of Seven Days as he waited in the hallway for the trustees to decide his fate.

That afternoon, board Chairman Philip Drumheller, King of Lane Press, and Trustee Louise McCarren, Queen of Verizon, met with the press at Mary Fanny’s Trinity College campus.

First, they announced Mr. Boettcher had been placed on administrative leave with pay (he earns $525,000 a year). Asked how Boss Boettcher had handled it, Drumheller said, “He’s very troubled and concerned, but he was a perfect gentleman.”

Then Phil and Louise announced that the trustees had decided to form a six-member ad hoc committee to investigate themselves.

Brilliant! That’ll keep the wolves at bay!

And to dissuade those who might think the fix was in, they said three of the seats would go to outsiders.

Former UVM Prez Ed Colodny sure sounded like a smart pick. Joining him, they said, would be David Coates, distinguished former boss at KMPG’s Vermont shop, and one of the backroom boys of the business lobby who whispers in the governor’s ear.

FAHC hadn’t yet found a third “outsider” willing to jump into the hospital swamp. Asked if the trustees had thought about putting a hospital employee on the panel, Louise said it had not been considered. And this week FAHC announced L. Kinvin Wroth, dean of Vermont Law School, would fill the last seat.

Chairman Drumheller said the trustees’ investigation of Boettcher and themselves “would leave no stone unturned.”

He declined, however, to respond to allegations made in David Cox’s bombshell deposition. Cox, FAHC’s former chief financial officer, told state regulators under oath in April that Boettcher and Drumheller kept the full board clueless about the off-the-balance-sheet, “synthetic lease” financing scheme for the $55-million parking garage.

And when asked if the trustees had made any mistakes in areas dealing with the current regulatory scandal, the chairman dug in his heels.

“I’m not conceeding any,” he said. Must be nice to be so perfect.

Funny how Drumheller’s arrogance echoed that exhibited by Boss Boettcher in a May 13 interview with Bruce Edwards of the Rutland Herald. Edwards asked the CEO if he would have done anything differently in getting the huge Renaissance Project going.

“Well, first of all,” answered Boettcher, “I wouldn’t characterize anything that has transpired as a problem.”

Really? Other than the iceberg, Captain Smith, how was the Titanic’s crossing?

The Mary Fanny Scandal was the top story on the Vermont airwaves Wednesday evening and front-page news on Thursday morning. But then it got even worse.

Gov. Howard Dean, actually back in Vermont to do laundry after two weeks on the presidential campaign trail, held a press conference in Montpelier. It was very well attended and the crowd of rubberneckers spilled out into the Fifth Floor hallway.

Among the Big Dogs in attendance was Attorney General William Sorrell. At the first mention of the magic words “Fletcher Allen,” the Guv quickly called Sorrell to the podium and stepped aside.

General Billy informed the press he had launched his own investigation of the Mary Fanny. He said he had already been in contact with Ms. McCarren and Mr. Coates and hoped to coordinate the investigations. But he kept his mouth shut about a third investigation until a reporter asked him directly if Uncle Sam was going to get involved.

After all, folks, the not-so-pretty picture here includes an off-shore high-finance scheme involving the hospital’s captive insurance company in Bermuda, the issuance of bonds on Wall Street and matters of greater financial scope than what Vermont is used to. FAHC’s annual revenue stream exceeds a half-billion dollars. That’s billion with a “B.”

Sorrell slowly stepped up to the mike and stunned everyone by revealing that, while hospital trustees were meeting at the Sheraton the previous day, he and his assistants had been at the Federal Building discussing the Mary Fanny case with prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

By the way, you can watch that incredible press conference in its entirety on the Internet at

As reporters tried in vain to get more specifics about what kind of crimes were under investigation, our favorite presidential hopeful suddenly interrupted Sorrell with an even more stunning revelation.

“I’m going to be less cute,” said an impatient Dr. Dean. “And this is going to drive you all crazy and it’s going to drive Bill crazy. If I were a lawyer, I wouldn’t say it.”

“Should I leave?” quipped Sorrell nervously.

“There are additional allegations that you don’t know about and you’re not going to know about them,” declared Dean to a startled audience of press, state officials, hospital lobbyists and professional spin doctors. “We happened to stumble upon them,” said Ho-Ho.

This week, General Billy appeared on the Radio Vermont airwaves with Peter Mallary, guest host of “The Mark Johnson Show.” Mallary, a former state rep, asked Sorrell if the “new allegations” relate to the Renaissance Project and the parking garage.

“Well, yes,” replied the AG. “They’re all sort of inter-connected. There are some matters that don’t specifically relate to the Renaissance Project, but, you know, it’s all money,” said Sorrell. “And it has to do with permitting processes, and it has to do, of course, with hospital budgets and things of that sort.”

“When will we know?” asked Mallary.

“That really depends on what we find,” answered Sorrell. “If we find violations of state law and we decide to file charges, the public will become more aware of what we found through that process.”

No kidding. It’s called a criminal indictment.

If, however, the AG’s office doesn’t find grounds to bring criminal charges, Sorrell said his office “might be issuing a report of our own… hopefully sometime this fall.”

Great. A potential stocking-stuffer.

For the time being, however, the waters will remain a bit choppy. The rumors are flying about Boettcher’s alleged golden parachute, but Drum-heller declined to discuss that last week. And, truth be told, Boettcher’s a man without a friend in Vermont. From recent research on this story, we’ve learned Boss Bill has managed to rub most of the local players the wrong way.

How are hospital employees taking it, you might ask?

As well as can be expected. Staff morale wasn’t great to begin with. Now it’s approaching Enron levels.

Asked about the unseamly news of a management scandal, a law enforcement probe, trustee promises not to shred documents and an uncertain future, Krystina Ahlman, R.N., told Seven Days, “It’s been a bad week. It’s kind of embarrassing to be associated with it.”

As if nurses didn’t already have enough on their hands.

“We work very hard under horrrible conditions to make the best outcomes,” she said. The problem is too many patients, too few nurses.

Ms. Ahlman said she supports the union-organizing drive currently underway. And, let’s face it, with the trust level of hospital management and the board of trustees hovering around zero, prospects for unionized nurses at the Mary Fanny have never been brighter.

“I think it’s important that nurses have a say,” said Ms. Alhman. “If nurses unionize, we’d be able to advocate for our patients to make sure fiscal resources go to patient care.”

Doesn’t sound like a radical idea, does it?

>Where’s the Guv? — Ready for this. Dean’s office has pretty much stopped issuing weekly schedules of any kind. We’re back to pulling teeth. And the Supreme Court is still sitting on Ho-Ho’s appeal of a Superior Court ruling ordering him to cough up his real schedule.

Meanwhile, we’ve learned our governor is spending this week as far away as possible. He’s in the Canadian Artic visiting Station Alert with Paul Celluci, the U.S. Ambassador to Canada. It’s a tiny, top-secret Canadian intelligence listening outpost on Ellsmere Island, 817 kilometers from the geographic North Pole. Aide Kate O’Connor says it is not a campaign trip.

Maybe a seat for Ho-Ho on the Space Shuttle will be next, eh?

Of course, they’ll need a second seat for the state trooper.

Sports Court — Vermont’s other professional ice hockey player, Graham Mink of Stowe, was back at the Palace of Justice on Cherry Street Friday afternoon with his lawyer and his dad. Mink literally stood out. He’s an extra-tall, lean, raw-boned athletic specimen and he was finely dressed in a suit and tie.

Mr. Mink told us that he’ll be reporting to the Washington Capitals training camp in Mary-land the first week of September. Most likely he’ll start the regular season with the Portland Pirates, the Capitals’ top minor-league club in Maine. But Graham had a great rookie year and, if he keeps improving, he may be seeing a little NHL ice-time by the end of the season. That is, if he’s not in jail.

You see, he has a little problem in Vermont District Court.

Mink, a former UVM star, is charged with aggravated assault for allegedly beating another college student unconscious last September and then kicking him in the head several times. It happened on lower Buell Street, student turf, just a few doors down from last week’s late-night stabbing.

Boys will be boys, they say, and the volatile mix of excess alcohol and excess testosterone all too often turns complete strangers into sworn enemies engaged in spontaneous life-and-death struggles.

The hockey player sat quietly in the very last row of the crowded Burlington courtroom while Judge Michael Kupersmith literally fought his way through a jam-packed docket.

First, there was a sentencing of a female heroin dealer. She herself is an addict, as most dealers are. And as local court watchers tell us, heroin has become the alarming thread that binds so many criminal defendants together these days. Veterans of the judicial trenches tell us, with alarm in their eyes, that heroin is a monster gobbling up more young Vermonters than anyone yet realizes.

Meanwhile, back to hockey. When Kupersmith declared he’d take up the case of “the professional hockey player” next, Mink and his attorney R. Jeffrey Behm “skated” to the front of the room.

The judge wondered aloud what was taking so long for the Mink case to proceed to some resolution.

Behm explained there were still depositions of eyewitnesses to be taken, both by the state and by the defense. Some, he said, involved university students who are still away on summer vacation. Behm told the court there was a lot of “conflicting testimony” over what happened that night “over 15 to 20 seconds in the dark.”

Behm also said he was considering filing a motion for a change of venue due to press coverage of the case.

Obviously, Mr. Mink is going to fight this one tooth and nail. He’s pled not guilty and rejected a plea agreement under which he would have to spend 90 days in the state work camp.

Like we said earlier, training camp starts in four weeks. This could be the Stowe kid’s break-through season in the pros.

Judge Kupersmith set the next court date for October 4. Depositions should be finished by then, he told the lawyers. And he made it perfectly clear the court will not be postponing Mink’s trial this fall because of his ice- hockey commitments.

“I’m not going to let the defendant’s employment,” said Kupersmith, “stand in the way of getting this to trial.”

And an interesting trial it will be when they finally drop the puck.

Media Notes — Everybody seems to notice the freshest new face on local TV news — Lara Yamada.

Lara left a reporting job in her native Hawaii to come halfway around the world to be the second-banana anchor at our local ABC affiliate, WVNY-TV. Smart lady. Very nice delivery. Top-banana anchorman Eric Greene should be worried.

Last year Ms. Yamada, a University of Oregon grad, picked up a couple broadcast awards from the Society of Professional Journalists in Honolulu.

Hawaii’s loss is Vermont’s gain. If Lara gets a little homesick, well, there’s always the Champlain Islands, right?