(HOST) Former Fletcher Allen Health Care CEO William Boettcher pleaded guilty to a federal felony charge last week. But to commentator Tim McQuiston, it still doesn’t feel as if the whole mess is firmly behind us – not yet anyway.
(MCQUISTON) We’ve all been waiting for the “other shoe” to drop and this was supposed to be “it”. William Boettcher conspired to misrepresent the cost of the Burlington hospital’s Renaissance Project. As part of his plea agreement, he must repay the hospital over $700,000, or the amount the hospital paid him when his employment was terminated in September 2002.
He could also be given a sentence of up to two years in federal prison. Already, the hospital itself has been punished, and another former employee Thad Krupka, the former COO, has pleaded guilty, returned some of his remuneration and has agreed to help investigators.
Prosecutors contended that Boettcher mislead the state Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration, as well as his own board of trustees by claiming that the cost of the project was $173 million, even though the actual cost was more like $250 million. His motivation, apparently, was to get the state to approve the project by hiding its true cost.
So, if Boettcher’s plea was the other shoe to drop, why doesn’t it feel like the whole thing is over? Indeed, the Renaissance Project itself – the massive addition featuring an updated and expanded out-patient wing, and the underground parking garage that goes with it – are nearing completion. But it still doesn’t feel like we are at the end of the hospital’s nagging problems, or even at the beginning of the end.
Fletcher Allen is one of the state’s most important non-government entities. It not only provides health care for a large geographic region that stretches well into upstate New York, but it’s also the state’s second largest private employer, (behind only IBM in Essex Junction).
All hospitals face a variety of issues, of course, from budgeting to labor. And every hospital, its administrators and trustees are under constant public scrutiny because of the important role a hospital plays in its community. But Fletcher Allen just can’t quite seem to shake off the residual bad feelings from the scandal. New CEO Melinda Estes is well regarded and clearly knows what she’s doing. But Fletcher Allen is still working to regain the public’s trust, and it could take awhile yet.
If this is not yet the beginning of the end, perhaps it is the end of the beginning in the hospital’s new life. The Renaissance Project may indeed lead to a new, proud era for the hospital. Certainly, we could all use that.
This is Timothy McQuiston.
Timothy McQuiston is editor of Vermont Business Magazine.