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Avalon Hospital's Administrator Ousted by Board After 8 Months : Health care: Catalina Island facility has had severe financial woes and high management turnover in recent years.

August 29, 1993|DEBORAH SCHOCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH AREA — The administrator of Santa Catalina Island's only hospital has been ousted less than eight months after he took over the top post at the financially struggling facility.

Herman F. Ruddell said he stepped down Aug. 12 at the request of the hospital's board of directors. "They said they decided to make a change," said Ruddell, adding that he was surprised at the news.

Board President Kenneth J. Putnam said Ruddell chose to resign from the $66,000-a-year job after a lengthy discussion with the board. The board, he said, thought that Ruddell had not put in enough hours at the hospital, an accusation that Ruddell denies.

Ruddell departs during a tumultuous period at the 12-bed Avalon Municipal Hospital, which has been buffeted in recent years by financial problems and administrative turnover. Financial losses were so great that Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, which had operated the hospital since 1984, chose to pull out when its contract expired in December.

Even so, supporters fought to keep the doors open at the hospital, which the city of Avalon owns and began managing after Long Beach Memorial's departure. Backers were heartened by the July 1 start-up of a joint effort between the facility and the UCLA School of Medicine.

Ruddell was instrumental in launching that effort, which brings UCLA medical residents to Catalina as part of their training. The program is supervised by a UCLA physician, Dr. William Holvik, who began work at the hospital in mid-July.

Until his arrival, only two part-time physicians served the island 26 miles off the Los Angeles coastline.

Ruddell said he had been talking to Holvik about starting obstetrics service on the island in about six months. The hospital was also discussing having plastic surgery conducted on the island, another way to boost income, he said.

Board members said last week that the UCLA affiliation will continue despite the departure of Ruddell, who became administrator in January.

Catalina's 33-year-old hospital has been run by a series of administrators in the past two years. Ruddell's predecessor, Anora Tracy, became administrator in April, 1992, and left when Long Beach Memorial stopped managing the hospital at the end of December. She had succeeded Deborah Anderson, who was fired, and Lew Gillette, who resigned amid rumors of financial mismanagement.

The hospital is now headed by acting administrator Karen Cauthen, who has been assistant administrator and director of nursing services.

Putnam, who has been board president since July, explained Ruddell's departure by saying: "More than anything else, it just wasn't an effective match."

Ruddell's family had remained in Bakersfield, and he could not commit sufficient time to his job, working fewer than four days a week, Putnam said.

But Ruddell called that complaint unfair, saying that he regularly worked more than 40 hours a week at the hospital during his tenure. He said he had been hampered by his inability to find affordable housing on Catalina with enough space to accommodate his wife and four children. Most housing on Catalina is small or available only for winter rental, he said.

Ruddell said his single biggest hurdle as administrator was dealing with the slow bureaucracy of procuring Medicare and Medi-Cal reimbursements for the hospital. That, in turn, created cash-flow problems, he said.

The city of Avalon has agreed to pump money into the hospital to try to make it viable. But that money is being spent at a faster rate than anticipated.

The city spent $380,000 on the hospital in the first six months of this year, including $100,000 to $125,000 on one-time start-up expenses, said City Manager Chuck Prince.

Another $520,000 in city funds has been budgeted for the 1993-94 fiscal year. Of that amount, $128,000 was spent in July and August, in part because of slow Medicare and Medi-Cal reimbursements, officials said.

To slow that rate, the hospital board plans to hire a chief financial officer with the expertise to improve cash flow by quickening reimbursements and attracting more patients.

Prince said last week that 11 of the hospital's 12 beds were full. And Ruddell said that he thinks the hospital can succeed.

"I think the hospital program that's taking shape out there is doable," he said. "And the community's willing to offer reasonable support, and that they can enjoy a good primary-care-service hospital that meets their needs."

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