MEADE — Artesian Valley Health System in Meade has come under the microscope after a video went viral on Facebook that showed three health care providers at the facility resigning in protest of AVHS CEO Tara Ramlochan.
In the video, two of the staff members state that Ramlochan did not have the credentials to order medication or practice medicine as she is not licensed to do either, and are demonized by another staff member for not acting like "facts people."
A day after the providers’ resignation, Artesian Valley Health System issued a press release stating that it continues to remain fully staffed and that replacement plans for those who resigned were underway.
"When I came out here, Tara had told me she had various credentials, like she was finishing her nurse practitioner degree and she was getting her doctorate of business administration," said Christine Donnelly, former medical director at Artesian and one of the employees who resigned in the video. "She’s told me various things that made me think she was a bit more educated than she was."
Donnelly said the root of a lot of the problems with Ramlochan came from the way she treated the mid-level providers, and that Ramlochan would constantly call them into her office and berate them.
Donnelly said she would be called into Ramlochan’s office to witness this treatment of employees and that it was particularly bad for Merrill Hoover, a former nurse practitioner with Artesian.
Hoover’s job was said to have been threatened on almost a monthly basis, and Donnelly said she found this bullying behavior to be unprofessional and that in her 20 years working in the medical field, she had never seen a CEO act as she said Ramlochan has.
Hoover said Ramlochan started berating her within the first week after Hoover was hired, calling her "worthless" and "incompetent" and accusing her of causing surgical infections.
"It’d get worse, she’d call me in there and say she was writing me up," said Hoover. "Our HR director was never there to witness any of it."
Hoover doubts she was written up for any infraction because procedure dictates she would have had to sign a copy of the alleged infraction for her own records.
Hoover alleged that Ramlochan also stole PTO hours from her if Ramlochan could not find her.
Hoover brought it to Donnelly’s attention that Ramlochan was illegally ordering medications, which could result in the loss of her RN license. Donnelly said she had reported this to both the hospital board of directors that hired Ramlochan and to the Kansas Board of Nursing.
Artesian’s website lists Ramlochan's credentials as Nurse Executive Advanced-Board Certification, a master’s of science in nursing and registered nurse.
"All the allegations are untrue, including salary," Ramlochan said. "No money is mismanaged here, I report to the board, I work in collaboration with my (chief financial officer) and we have a licensed CPA who oversees our finances.
"Dr. Donnelly was a great doctor at AVHS, who took care of her patients well.
"However, for the last several months, she had been asking me to hire her husband for various executive jobs, which I should say he’s not qualified for. He has never worked in health care."
Ramlochan added that with Donnelly’s last request, Donnelly had asked Ramlochan to make her husband a chief operating officer.
"I told her I have a team who work with me and I don’t need to create another FTE (full-time equivalent)," Ramlochan said.
According to Donnelly, Artesian staff have asked the board to place Ramlochan on administrative leave so an investigation into her actions could be initiated, and concerned providers were denied access into a special board of directors meeting on Sept. 29 where the board was said to be discussing findings of its investigation into Ramlochan’s activities.
When they were turned away again after the meeting, Donnelly, Hoover and nurse practitioner James Green presented their 90-day notice of resignation, thus leading to the events of the video.
According to Donnelly, while these meetings are typically held in executive sessions reserved for board members only, Ramlochan is frequently a part of them, which Donnelly said was suspicious.
"I said, ’That’s it, I’m not waiting another month for the next meeting, we need to address this now,’ " Donnelly said.
Donnelly said the former Lone Tree Retirement Center administrator came to her with evidence of Medicare fraud perpetrated by Ramlochan, including a misappropriation of stimulus funds taken from the nursing home and sent to the hospital.
"The nursing home director brought this to the board, but they continue to look the other way," Donnelly said.
In this time, AVHS board member Ruth Miller submitted her resignation.
"I could no longer remain objective toward the situation," Miller said.
When contacted, board member Milton Tacha declined to comment about the situation, saying "I’d just assume not yet," out of a personal conflict of interest.
Additionally, AVHS board president Tom Rickard said, "At this point in time I have no comment."
Another piece of audio in the video stated a wrongful termination lawsuit had been filed against the hospital.
The lawsuit was provided in full to The Daily Globe. The suit was filed in 2018 by Melvin Viney, an advanced practice registered nurse who had been employed at the hospital since 2014.
As of Oct. 29, 2019, the last court filing on the case stated, "Viney and Meade District Hospital, hereby stipulate to the dismissal of this action with prejudice."
The filing was based on inaction with the lawsuit that had been filed on Oct. 25, 2019, according to lawsuit documents.
A petition to recall both Ramlochan and the board of directors was going around the community but was denied by the county attorney on Oct. 7 on the grounds of "insufficient stated factual basis."
"Even though his job was not to determine whether the factual allegations supported the legal ground, he did not think they were sufficient," Donnelly said.
Since then, Donnelly has contacted the Kansas Department of Labor because of Ramlochan’s constant threatening of employees’ jobs if they signed the petition. Donnelly also contacted the district attorney.
Ramlochan said she preferred to invest Artesian’s money in staff raises, purchasing and replacing equipment, growing, and saving for emergencies — which she suspects is forthcoming in health care.
Ramlochan was staunch in saying that care quality remains uninterrupted at Artesian Valley Health System.