August 24, 2005 - Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors Treasurer Bonnie Stegman said she will not resign even though her employer, St. Anthony's Medical Center, told her that she must resign from the board or lose her job.
Stegman told the Call that hospital officials told her last week that several paramedics told hospital employees that if she continued to work there, paramedics would take fewer patients to the hospital, refuse to take continuing education classes there and would picket outside St. Anthony's.
"The HR vice president (Craig Mills) said he talked to several people, but he didn't say who or how many," Stegman said. "They basically said that I was negatively economically impacting the hospital."
Stegman, a registered nurse educator, teaches continuing education classes to paramedics, physicians, nurses and emergency medical services providers.
Hospital spokesman Lois Kendall declined to comment, saying that the hospital by law is unable to comment on personnel matters.
Instead, the hospital administration issued the following statement, "St. Anthony's respectfully declines to discuss matters regarding personnel. Our organization has strong working relationships with all of the fire districts in our service area, and we have always worked together as partners to provide the best possible service to the people in our community."
Stegman said that an employee who works in the emergency room told her that the paramedics were from Mehlville.
"They said their goal was to divert 10 patients away from St. Anthony's a day," Stegman said.
Chris Francis, president of Local 1889 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, represents both firefighters and paramedics in the district and told the Call the district employees must follow a strict policy regarding transporting patients for emergency care.
"The union has not issued any directive as far as taking or not taking patients from St. Anthony's," Francis said. "First and foremost is the care of the patient, that's the greatest priority."
Francis also had heard paramedics say they would not enroll in classes at the hospital, but he said he did not know their reasoning.
"I have heard rumblings from some guys that they would not take classes over there," Francis told the Call.
Stegman said that her supervisor and the human resources vice president told her at the meeting that the decision to ask her to resign had nothing to do with her job performance. She also said she was not given any documentation or proof that the alleged threats actually had any impact on the hospital, including enrollment in the continuing education classes.
"They didn't give any hard data of any kind and basically they're being extorted, and they're caving into it," Stegman said. "... I have two classes that are already full, so I have been turning people down for that.''
Mehlville Fire Protection District Chief Jim Silvernail said he checked into the ambulance run records to see if more patients were being run to other hospitals instead of St. Anthony's.
"We ran it, and we compared it to last year, and there has not been any change whatsoever," Silvernail said. "We have had no complaints come in here that complain of patient care."
He also said that he had met with Tom Rockers, chief executive officer and president of St. Anthony's, about the situation, but Silvernail declined to comment about the meeting.
Stegman said the district's ambulance run policy outlines which hospitals paramedics can take patients to for emergency care. In a critical situation, a patient is taken to the closest hospital, which is St. Anthony's, she said. If the patient needs more specialized care, the patient would be taken to the appropriate hospital, such as St. John's Mercy Hospital for burn victims or St. Louis Children's Hospital for a child.
In any situation that is less critical, Stegman said paramedics ask patients to choose the hospital.
"If there's no critical need to go someplace else, most of the time the patients want to go where their doctor is," she said.
She also said the district would have the final say where paramedics enroll for their continuing education courses because the district pays the bill.
"The department pays the course fees because they're advanced courses," Stegman told the Call. "It's something that they would be required to have as part of their department."
Stegman said that she asked the HR vice president on what grounds could the hospital force her to resign.
"He said it's a conflict of interest with me being on the board and negatively impacting them," Stegman said.
St. Anthony's Medical Center has a conflict of interest policy that states that an employee may have a conflicting outside interest if they serve as an agent or director to "any entity, company or institution that receives or may receive funding from SAMC or with which SAMC has an agreement, contract or relationship or is a direct competitor of SAMC."
Stegman said the district does not receive funding from the hospital.
Stegman had worked at St. Anthony's for 18 years and left to work at Des Peres Hospital for nearly two years. She went back to work at St. Anthony's after they offered her a job there on the same day as the fire district board election. She said hospital officials knew she was running for the board when she applied.
"I have always been very open with them and when I first got elected," Stegman said, noting that former Rep. Joan Barry continued to work as a nurse at St. Anthony's Medical Center after she was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives.
"In the past I know Joan Barry had been a state rep and worked at St. Anthony's, and they didn't have a problem with that,'' Stegman said.
Stegman said she was scheduled to meet with the hospital officials again Tuesday — after the Call went to press — to make her final decision. Stegman told the Call that although her decision is not official, she does not intend to resign from the fire district's Board of Directors.
"I was elected by the voters to do a job, and I'm going to continue with this job, and I'm not going to buckle under those bullies who harass people and think they can get away with it," she said.