PROVIDENCE – Recently released emails reveal a reason the former director of the agency that runs the ailing Eleanor Slater hospital in the state and her ally, Jennifer White, have abandoned their efforts to fire a high-ranking man which they saw as a thorn in the side.
“This will lead to him becoming CFO and my demotion or job loss…” White emailed the manager, Kathryn Power, at 6:24 pm on February 5, 2021.
“Well, that’s unacceptable… what’s the counterattack? Power responded five minutes later.
This question is never clearly answered in emails from two senior officials in the state’s Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disorders and Hospitals. [BHDDH] exchanged that day and in the weeks that followed.
But then BHDDH director Power emailed White the same day to say, “We’ve been played.”
In this email containing acronyms, she wrote to White: “I sincerely believed [sic] that no one at EOHHS [or maybe even HR) had any intention of making this work and they played the HR system and his greed so that no one would have to take the responsibility that the Secretary had indicted [sic] she would. “
The man at the center of this behind-the-scenes drama was Christopher Feisthamel, the $ 225,870-a-year “chief of operations and financial management” at Eleanor Slater Hospital. Among his past jobs: COO in the Office of the State Treasurer from 2011 to 2015 under Treas. Gina Raimondo.
“EOHHS” is the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, headed then – and now – by Womazetta Jones who by law oversees the four state agencies within its secretariat, including the BHDDH and its director .
“HR” is the state personnel office.
And the newly released emails guide the reader through complex – and in some ways, obscure – government staff rules that allow a laid-off, non-union employee to “kick” a less experienced employee from their job. .. or stay at home, don’t work but still get paid.
In this case, the emails indicate that White – who was looking for a promotion and a raise – only belatedly realized that if Feisthamel was fired, he could “remove” her from the $ 126,156 per year position that he did. she already occupied – CFO.
Power resigned as manager in April, citing illness in her family as the reason. White was put on paid leave, for unspecified reasons, a week ago.
Feisthamel is the only one in this drama to have his work intact while a reorganization is underway at BHDDH.
On Friday, BHDDH spokesperson Randal Edgar confirmed: “Chris Feisthamel will continue to be the Chief Operating Officer and Financial Management of Eleanor Slater Hospital.
So what exactly happened? And who, if any, is the “hero” or “villain” of the story?
As with many stories from the dysfunctional state agency that runs the state hospital, it’s hard to tell.
Feisthamel declined to comment. The Journal attempted to reach Power and White. Neither responded to inquiries.
But the emails came to light at a time when the hospital is struggling to retain its accreditation, following a scathing report from a national accrediting body on both the “decrepit” physical condition of the buildings and of land and on sometimes toxic works. environment.
The report referred to the results of interviews “with nurses, doctors and [an] hospitalized in Zambarano … All indicate widespread mistrust, fear of reprisals and multiple resignations of doctors and nurses. “
An investigative team from the Joint Commission for Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations is expected this week.
On May 10, WPRI-TV reported that Feisthamel had “dodged two dismissal attempts” and had literally been removed from his post.
“In December,” WPRI reported, “Feisthamel’s former office in Cranston was emptied and given to someone else. Records examined by Target 12 show that her security access was terminated on Eleanor Slater at around the same time. ”
Documents that the McKee administration provided to the Journal on Friday in response to questions dating back to April 23 corroborate Power and White’s failed efforts to fire Feisthamel.
Included is a draft termination letter that state human resources program administrator Geneviève Simard sent to Power at 5:09 p.m. on February 5 for her signature.
He began: “Dear Mr. Feisthamel, Due to budgetary and organizational restructuring, it has been determined that a layoff is necessary.
“Unfortunately, I must inform you that effective February 22, 2021, you will be laid off from your position as Chief Operating Officer and Financial Management. [Eleanor Slater hospital].
“During this period, you will not be required to report for work … but you will be granted paid administrative leave.”
The draft letter informed Feishamel – who appears to have started working at BHDDH as CFO in January 2016 – of his potential options, including “rejecting” a less experienced employee.
At 6:24 pm that night, White – obviously realizing the implications – emailed Power: “This will lead him to become the CFO and I’ll be demoted or lose my job.”
A day later – which turned out to be a Saturday – White sent Power, BHDDH Deputy Director Louis Cerbo, Simard and Deputy Personnel Administrator Pamella Moscarelli an email titled: “Layoff Notice to the CF. “
“Under the direction of Director Kathryn Power, please suspend delivery of the document until further notice,” the email read.
“It has become evident that there is a need to fully control the chain of events and to take the time to arrive at the best solution.”
The emails do not shed light on why Power and White wanted to fire Feisthamel.
What is clear, however, is that Power wanted to keep White, the chief financial officer of OHDDH, in the high position she had placed her in – Acting CEO of Eleanor Slater Hospital – beyond the authorized point. by the rules of state personnel.
The known story:
On June 4, 2020, Power announced that CEO Cynthia Huether had abruptly resigned and that “BHDDH Chief Financial Officer Jennifer White [would] serve as interim CEO of Eleanor Slater Hospital as the department explores hospital restructuring options and recruits a permanent CEO.
“I am delighted that Jennifer White has agreed to take on this new role,” Power said that day.
“Jennifer has extensive experience and expertise in finance and executive management … most recently as Executive Director and COO of the Optum brand of United Health Care Group in Wyoming. “
In his new temporary role, White’s earnings have grown from $ 122,311 in 2020 to $ 198,550 in 2021, according to the state’s employee online portal.
Asked what happened next, BHDDH spokesperson Randal Edgar told the Journal on April 15:
White was “ESH Interim CEO from June 25, 2020 to February 10, 2021 … The former Director Power unilaterally made the decision to keep Ms. White in the role of Interim CEO (without a pay raise). “
The recently released emails give a glimpse of what was going on behind the scenes.
At 10:48 a.m. on February 23, Health and Human Services Secretary Jones emailed Power explaining White’s dilemma.
She couldn’t stay CEO of Eleanor Slater Hospital as she was ready for an upgrade in her official position – CFO – thanks to what in state jargon is called an “office audit.”
At 11:01 am that day, Power emailed White, “Would you like me to clarify with her that I always use your great skills as an interim CEO no matter what HR is doing? ! ”
At 11:02 am White responded, “Not yet ……….. let’s not move the boat to get me out of the position I’m in so we can deal with CF. Post that we will deal with it. I hold the title of CEO, I perform the duties, they will pay. “
At 11:28 am the same day, Feisthamel asked White to sign a computer request form “to restore my email and bhddh profile”.
At 11:33 am, White wrote to Power, “This will add to your day… The MP decides where CF can sit. I kept him at a distance. I don’t know how long the document review process will take.
“You are the owner of the space for the buildings ….. please let us know.” (It is not known who the “MP” is in this context.)
At 12:11, Deputy Director Louis Cerbo wrote to Power: “I advise him not to move until we have discussed. I’m not even sure what he is going to do?”
White’s unofficial role as CEO ended when Power left and Governor Dan McKee appointed Jones acting director of OHDHR on April 9.
At this point, “Ms. White has been informed that her only responsibilities will be those of BHDDH’s chief financial officer,” Edgar told the Journal on April 15.
A lawsuit filed in federal court by Lisa Greenlund, the state hospital’s security administrator, names Feisthamel as one of the state officials who “failed and / or refused to respond to technical, environmental and / or behavioral problems “.
But the latest document in the McKee administration’s response to the Journal’s registration request is an unsigned letter addressed: “To Whom It May Concern.”
He says, in part: “The media is chasing the bad story about Chris Feisthamel at Eleanor Slater Hospital.”
“The correct target should be the master architects of the Eleanor Slater Hospital Consolidation Plan. The plan was concocted with no regard for the fragile patient population, suppliers, or the hundreds of employees affected. “
“Chris, among others, has been systematically bullied and harassed … I’ve seen all of this happen and it’s really not fair.”