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Embattled Medical Center Trustee Considers Legal Action By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Tuesday February 28, 2006

The controversy over the removal of Oakland medical professional Gwen Sykes from the Alameda County Medical Center Board of Trustees descended into confusion this week. 

Alameda County Board of Supervisors President Keith Carson said that he had removed Sykes only after she had told him that she was going to resign but refused to do so. Alameda County Counsel Richard Winnie said that Sykes had actually resigned from the board by letter, but Sykes denied that she had resigned. 

The only thing all sides agreed on was that Sykes’ removal stemmed from her complaints about fiscal matters at the Alameda County Medical Center. The center includes Highland Hospital in Oakland, Fairmont Hospital in San Leandro, the John George Psychiatric Pavilion, and three county outpatient clinics. The center has been in financial difficulty for several years. 

Sykes said that she has retained an attorney and is considering legal action to fight her removal from the hospital trustee board. 

Winnie said that he had seen Sykes’ letter of resignation from the board, and promised to provide a copy if he had one available in his office, but had not done so by late Monday afternoon. 

Winnie agreed with the assertion in last week’s Daily Planet article that Carson by himself did not have the authority to remove Sykes from the board and that the bylaws of the Alameda County Medical Center only allow a trustee to be removed by a majority of members of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. 

But asked by telephone if she had resigned from the board, Sykes said, “No, I never did. Several people with the hospital and the county tried to get me to do that, Richard Winnie included. But I didn’t resign.” 

Carson confirmed that. 

“She’d agreed on numerous occasions to step off the board,” he said in a telephone interview. He added he called a joint meeting of representatives of the trustee board, the board of supervisors, and county and medical center staff in early February to address Sykes’ concerns and “understood that at the end of the meeting she would step down. She elected not to do that.” 

Carson said that he knew that Sykes was considering an appeal of her removal and said that “she has every right to pursue that avenue, but I think she’s really damaging herself.” 

As reported last week in the Daily Planet, Carson announced in a Feb. 15 letter to the trustees that “effective Feb. 27, Dr. Gwen Rowe-Lee Sykes will no longer serve on the Alameda County Medical Center Board of Trustees.” Carson appointed Sykes to the board in March 2004. 

Even though the removal was to be effective this week, Sykes’ name and picture had already been removed from the ACMC Board of Trustees web page by late last week. 

“I drafted the letter to be ambiguous,” Carson said in his interview, “so that it wouldn’t impugn her integrity and that people reading it would not know that she had been terminated. I have tried to be protective of her.” 

According to Sykes, the situation reached a head during the Jan. 24 trustee meeting when she raised questions about the state of the medical center’s finances, which Sykes called “bleak.” 

“I told the board members at that meeting that we had been misled by Cambio,” she said. “We were told that we would meet our budget, but we will not. I asked why we were not reviewing Cambio’s contract for noncompliance.” 

Tennessee-based Cambio Health Solutions was hired by the medical center in February 2004 to analyze the medical center’s finances. Cambio’s involvement with the medical center ended with the appointment of Wright Lassiter as ACMC CEO last September. 

Carson’s February meeting of trustees and supervisors came as a result of the issues raised by Sykes at the Jan. 24 meeting. 

Sykes said that at that meeting former Pleasanton mayor Tom Pico, the recently-elected treasurer of the medical center’s trustee board, “invited me to join him on the finance committee. He renewed that request at the Feb. 6 meeting and told me that my questions about the accuracy of the financial statements coming from the staff were valid.” 

Pico could not be reached for comment. 

But Carson said that he removed Sykes from the board because she was getting no support for her concerns from other trustee members. 

“I tried to make sure her issues were heard by the appropriate body,” Carson said. “But when it gets to a place where she’s not being heard by her colleagues and there is a unanimous conclusion about her issues, then she’s not able to do good work any more.” 

“Nobody was trying to muzzle her,” Winnie said. “I know that she had a whole variety of complaints, and a subcommittee of the board was formed to hear them and document them. Keith [Carson] was interested in what she was saying. He made sure my office heard what she was saying. But she was raising very antagonistic charges against the staff and board members that were increasing in volume over time. They were very heavy charges.” 

Carson said that he “understood” from J. Bennett Tate, the president of the medical center board of trustees, that the issues raised by Sykes “are still being investigated.” 

But while Carson was giving guarded praise to Sykes, saying that he “thought she did a good job” while on the board, Sykes said that what disturbed her most about the situation was the lack of support by a fellow African-American. Both Carson and Sykes are black. 

“I can’t accept it when one African-American asks another one to do a task,” Sykes said, “and then, when she does it, she gets shot down by the same African-American who made the request.”