Trustee Sykes Refuses to Give Up Post By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Friday March 03, 2006

In what is quickly becoming a running political soap opera, the ouster of Alameda County Medical Center trustee Gwen Sykes took a new turn this week when Sykes participated in this week’s trustee meeting, insisting that she was still one of the 11 board members. 

Apparently, she is. 

Earlier this month, Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson informed medical center trustees by mail that Sykes “will no longer serve on the Alameda County Medical Center Board of Trustees.” 

Carson nominated Sykes to the board in 2004, but said in an interview that he removed her because of complaints from “a majority of her colleagues” on the board that they were “having a difficult time conducting business” because of Sykes. As a result, Sykes’ picture was removed from the medical center trustee board webpage. 

Sykes had earlier announced that she had retained an attorney and was considering legal action to keep her position on the board. 

But on Tuesday night, supported by a published statement by Alameda County Counsel Richard Winnie that a medical center trustee could only be removed by a majority of the Board of Supervisors, Sykes arrived just before the beginning of the public session of the trustee meeting and took her place at the trustee table. 

After a quiet but animated discussion with Board President J. Bennett Tate and board clerk Barbara Miller-Elegbede, in which Elegbede could be heard saying repeatedly “but you’re no longer on the board,” Sykes remained at the trustees table, participating as a trustee in both discussions and voting throughout the meeting. 

By Thursday, Sykes’ photograph had been returned to the medical center trustee board webpage. 

No public announcement was made at Tuesday’s trustee meeting about Sykes’ status on the board. When asked following the meeting, Board President Tate would only say “no comment.” 

Sykes said that she was “still on the board, unless something else happens. Keith [Carson] did not have the authority to remove me on his own.” 

Carson could not be reached for comment. 

At the meeting itself, trustees received depressing news on the condition of the medical center’s finances, with board Finance Committee Chair Tom Pico saying that the center’s cash flow “has become critical,” with a projected $11.5 million projected deficit this year “if we continue at the budgeted levels.” 

Pico said that the $11.5 million deficit was “the best possible case. A more realistic assessment is that we will have a deficit of another $2.5 to $5 million above that unless we get a handle on expenses.” 

Board member Daniel Boggan agreed, saying that “there are major structural problems with this budget. Revenue is increasing, but there are still problems with balancing the budget.” 

During her two years on the board, Sykes has been critical of the medical center’s hiring and budgeting policies, and in his comments, Boggan said that many of the medical center’s financial problems are “things that Dr. Sykes has been concerned about.” 

In addition to a structural budget deficit, medical center officials also reported a cash-flow problem, with the finance department now holding vendor payments 10 days later in order to have enough money on hand to meet payroll. Medical Center CEO Wright Lassiter called the situation “rather acute,” and said that center administration officials have made a “significant amount of effort with state officials in addressing issues related to our cash flow problems.” 

Lassiter said that as a result of those efforts, the medical center has received a commitment from California Department of Health officials to release $31.4 million in payments owed to the center. 

“We’re expecting that money in two to three weeks,” Lassiter said. 

In other news, Lassiter said that the center is expecting a “positive compliance” designation on the center’s pending accreditation report within a week.