10/12/08 — Cherry staff defends use of foundation money

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Cherry staff defends use of foundation money

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 12, 2008 2:00 AM

Cherry Hospital officials this week scrambled to reassure staff that money contributed to the Cherry Foundation account has been used for legitimate purposes -- primarily to provide for patients' needs.

A report published earlier in the week alleged that thousand of dollars' worth of trips to medical conferences had been funded through the non-profit foundation, prompting calls to administrators and Stefanie Bostic, president of the Cherry Foundation.

"We have had phone calls from people threatening to stop payment on their checks because they think it's going to provide for all these travels," Ms. Bostic said.

For Ms. Bostic, it's not just a professional affront -- it's personal.

The Foundation was "enacted in good faith" while her father, the late Steve Bostic, was chaplain at Cherry. A long-time volunteer herself, Ms. Bostic was recently elected to the board of directors for the Foundation.

"One of the founding principles of the Foundation was that no funds would ever be used for any staff or employee needs," she explained in a letter sent out to Cherry staff, dated Oct. 6. "The Cherry Foundation and Continuing Medical Education are two separate accounts."

In 2003, the board of directors voted to partner with the hospital's Continuing Medical Education program to manage grant funds and to enhance the educational needs of staff.

The other account established is specifically earmarked for patient needs and is funded from any interest generated from the education account, explained Dr. Jack St. Clair, hospital director.

Operating under an estimated $20,000 annual budget, Cherry Foundation also relies on staff donations, particularly the annual State Employees Combined Campaign Drive, which typically generates $7,000-8,000 for the patient account.

"It provides funding for many items that cannot be provided from any other source," Ms. Bostic said. "It's not used for the employees. It's used for the patients."

They are separate accounts and the two are never mixed, St. Clair said.

"We don't have a loophole either that we're funneling money through," added Judy Howell, an administrative assistant who coordinates Cherry's medical education program. "The Foundation is a good thing for this community -- it has not been abused."

It is challenging to keep pace with the constantly changing role of mental health care, Ms. Howell said. With ongoing license renewal requirements, continuing education is a necessity and oftentimes presents a costly investment for the hospital, .

But paying for such efforts comes from a completely different funding source than the one that benefits the patients, she said.

Besides, she added, Cherry Hospital is under strict guidelines to comply with requirements stipulated in the grants and other funding outlets. One need go no further than the local and state audits conducted at Cherry to see the record in recent years has been "clean."

"I don't feel we have to defend anything," St. Clair said. "My obligation is to be truthful and convey to our staff that the historical contributions that they have given to the Cherry Foundation are honorable. That will continue to be the case.

"I want to reassure the staff that the Cherry Foundation has been a very good thing for our patients and we want to keep it that way."

"At the end of the day, Cherry Hospital is needed in Wayne County. We're trying to be honest people," Ms. Howell said.

Dr. St. Clair said the hospital has taken quite a few hits in recent months, but much that has been said or written is "explainable."

"The only thing that's not explainable is the death of a patient. It's not explainable; it's not acceptable," he said, referring to the 50-year-old male patient who died after allegedly being left unattended for an estimated 22 hours in a dayroom at the hospital. Further investigations into patient safety resulted in the hospital losing its federal Medicare and Medicaid funding, and survey teams spending several days at the hospital doing an assessment into management and staff policies and procedures.

"But we can learn from it and move on, and do everything in our power to try to keep from ever having anything like that happen again," St. Clair said.